(Sept. 26) Now that the headlines have passed, the first thing on the industry’s plate is to get spinach back on America’s plate.

The matter could not be more urgent. Damage done to this single commodity threatens to spill over to other items, threatening the profitability of the entire produce department.

The industry was quick to respond to news of the E. coli scare in spinach, yet not quick enough.

As spinach growers and processors mostly tried to keep matters under their hats, the Food and Drug Administration swooped in with its proclamation that no fresh spinach was safe.

Witness the carnage that followed:

CNN called it “Killer spinach.”

“Killer bacteria hunted in fields of California,” blared USA Today.

“Concern clears the shelves indefinitely” read the The Kansas City Star.

Some took the cute approach to this very serious issue, such as the Daily Times Leader, West Point, Miss., which carried the headline: “Popeye don’t preach, spinach is killer veggie.”

A Yahoo! News search for spinach yielded plenty more headlines. As an indication of our times, a sponsored ad at the bottom of the search page read like this: “Spinach E. Coli Legal Help — If you or a loved one has suffered problems with E. coli from fresh bagged spinach, choose a lawyer to help you evaluate your case. www.lawyersandsettlements.com.”

The very next sponsored ad? A rebuttal: “Spinach Products — Dole salads are safe. Visit us for more information on spinach and salad safety. www.dole.com.”

One could appreciate the irony if the situation were not so grave.

Some are calling this among the greatest food scares in produce history. The title is undeserved, the product of a sensational media.

There are 61 deaths from E. coli each year, from more than 73,000 instances of illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

While the illness was spread far and wide in this case, the death rate from this outbreak has been relatively minor. That is a sign of the quick and responsible recalls of fresh spinach products and the constant hand of the FDA.

Praise should be directed to industry associations for calling a town hall meeting among stakeholders Sept. 21 in Salinas, Calif. Let’s hope leaders emerged with a clear direction.

One positive emerging from the situation is United Fresh Produce Association’s plan, as reported in Advertising Age, to launch an advertising counteroffensive after FDA advises fresh spinach is again safe to eat.

The industry is counting on sound guidance as it tries to repair the image of spinach and to keep the image of all fresh fruits and vegetables wholesome and healthy in the minds of consumers.