(Oct. 19) Harrisburg, Penn.-based Verdelli Farms Inc. has felt the sting of decreased spinach sales in the wake of an E. coli outbreak, cutting back personell.

Jen Verdelli, director of sales, said Oct. 18 that savoy spinach sales were nonexistent and the company was forced to lay off 75 employees the week after a Sept. 14 Food and Drug Administration alert asking consumers to avoid spinach.

Verdelli Farms employs 300 at its plant that processes 80 million pounds of vegetables annually. The company sells produce to food retailers throughout the East, Midwest and South.

“We had to lay off two shifts of employees,” Verdelli said.

A full month after the initial alert, Verdelli said savoy spinach sales have slowly risen to half of the normal volume.

“It’s taking a long time for retailers to have confidence to bring it back,” she said. “We’re doing some new packaging and pushing our retailers, but our associations need to get out there and build back consumer confidence. We haven’t seen any of that.”

She said much of the spinach that had to be refused after the FDA alert was grown in Colorado.

Brian Mizokami, owner of Uvalde, Texas-based Pentagon Produce Inc., said when Verdelli Farms would not take his Colorado-grown savoy spinach, he was forced to destroy 25 truckloads, worth $250,000.