WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Last night, Tom Stenzel, president & CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, issued the following statement:

"We understand tonight that the Food and Drug Administration has reported a confirmed positive sample of E coli 0157:H7 in an open bag of spinach from a consumer who became ill in this outbreak.

"This is an important development in narrowing the source of contaminated product, confirming that this product was manufactured by Natural Selection Foods LLC, the manufacturer that first issued a voluntary recall of spinach on Sept. 15.

"It is extremely helpful that investigators now have a clear focus on product that came from a specific manufacturing facility, on a specific date. FDA will now continue to examine both that manufacturing facility and specific farms that may have been supplying raw product to the plant at that time.

"We are pleased that FDA has eliminated any concern about spinach grown anywhere but three counties in California. As reported by FDA Chief Medical Officer David Acheson, it is an important step in the investigation to narrow the source from a national search, to California, and now to a maximum of three counties.

"Now, the investigators must drive down to a specific source so that other producers and processors in these three counties can be cleared of concern.

"Our industry is committed to determining the specific source of this contamination, and working to make sure it does not happen again. The industry is committed to best agricultural practices in the field, and the strongest possible HACCP programs in manufacturing facilities. We know well the major risk factors for contamination, and constantly address these factors in the production of more than 17,000 acres of spinach in this growing region in California.

"But, something went terribly wrong in this case, and we are committed to isolating the problem to the source. This was a tragedy, and our industry must do whatever it takes to reassure the public of the safety of our products.

"It is also now important that producers and distributors of safe and healthy spinach from other areas now cleared in this outbreak are given a clear signal by FDA that this perishable commodity is acceptable to be marketed. Our entire industry has followed FDA's public health advice and shut down spinach movement from all sectors of the country.

"Consumers need to know that any tainted spinach has been fully removed from the marketplace, that the source of this outbreak has been narrowed greatly, and that safe and healthy spinach is once again becoming available in the marketplace.

"Finally, it is important for the public that FDA continues to emphasize that there is no concern about any other leafy greens other than spinach in this outbreak. Many fresh salads without spinach are already available at retail and foodservice, and fresh salad manufacturers have reformulated other salad blends without spinach during this situation. These are safe, healthy, convenient and great-tasting salads to help consumers meet their health goals to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

"We commend the FDA and industry for working together to first protect public health, and then isolate the cause of the outbreak in order to help restore confidence in the overall spinach industry as quickly as possible."

United Fresh Produce Association is the industry's leading trade association committed to driving the growth and success of produce companies and their partners. United Fresh represents the interests of member companies throughout the global, fresh produce supply chain, including family-owned, private and publicly traded businesses as well as regional, national and international companies.

The association was founded in 1904 to represent the produce industry, and recently took the name United Fresh as a result of the 2006 merger of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association and the International Fresh-cut Produce Association.

SOURCE: United Fresh Produce Association via PR Newswire.