(Oct. 23) Spinach growers outside of the Salinas Valley were not immune to the fallout after the E. coli outbreak, and they hope it will subside by the time winter crops are ready for harvest.

Brian Mizokami, owner and president of Uvalde, Texas-based Pentagon Produce Inc., said he had 25 loads of spinach from his Colorado fields destined for a repacker in Pennsylvania when the ban was announced. The re-packer shut down the day of the Food and Drug Administrations alert in mid-September.

“It was all lost,” he said. “It was over 682,000 pounds of spinach, worth about $250,000.”

In mid-October, Mizokami was planting in Arizona and south Texas, and although the E. coli originated from California, he does not see Salinas Valley’s plight as an opportunity.

“Unfortunately, when the FDA came out with a broad statement it didn’t matter if the spinach was from California or Colorado,” he said. “We won’t increase our acreage because the effect has been on overall decline in consumption of fresh spinach.”

He said his company has been using labels with the spinach’s state of origin to inform consumers, but there hasn’t been a resurgence in demand.

FRESH SETBACK?

Ray Prewett, president of the Texas Vegetable Association, Mission, said most spinach grown in the Uvalde area is processed, but growers have shown interest in turning more acres to fresh spinach.

“We’re certainly hoping this doesn’t set back that effort,” he said. “We are going to be engaged in some labeling (and) food safety things to try to be proactive.”

Additionally, Prewett said the association and growers have been involved in discussions with the Texas Department of Agriculture and Texas A&M University scientists to plan what may be done to bolster the Texas market.

ACREAGE DOWN

Spinach also is big business in Yuma, Ariz., and Southern California’s Imperial Valley.

Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Salinas, Calif., said he expects the market for Yuma spinach in mid-November to be about 25% to 30% of normal.

“We have scaled back our spinach planting in Yuma,” he said. “But we will be kicking off a major marketing effort in November in an effort to restore consumer confidence in all bagged produce.”

On Sept. 20, the FDA announced it had found a positive E. coli sample in a bag of Dole baby spinach that was manufactured by Natural Selection Foods LLC, San Juan Bautista, Calif.

Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif., which has grown spinach just across the border in San Luis, Mexico, for 30 years, said the company has cut back 50% on fall planting. He said sales of bagged spinach are 20% to 25% of normal, and bunched spinach is down 40%.