Australians are being reassured that spinach is safe to eat, after sales fell 30% this week amid fears the weed mixed with some green leafy products poisoned around 200 people.
Shoppers are leaving bags of spinach on supermarket shelves during the busiest time of the year after Riviera Farms produce was recalled this week amid contamination concerns.
On Wednesday, Rivera Farms and Victoria Health said they had found thornapple — a type of nightshade — in some of the farm’s spinach products, which can cause hallucinations, delirium, vomiting and breathing problems.
Bags of spinach were recalled after the alarm was first raised on Saturday.
Agriculture Victoria has been contacted for comment.
Michael Cott, CEO of Ausveg, the vegetable industry’s peak industry body, said many growers have seen sales drop by 30%.
“It varies depending on the business, and who their main customers are, but there is a noticeable drop in orders,” Cote said.
“It’s concerning given that the run-up to Christmas, the festive period is the busiest week of the year, even a 10% or 20% drop in sales can be significant.”
While the drop in sales will hit some hard, he said farmers were “cautiously optimistic” that it wouldn’t last long.
“Given how quickly this incident was dealt with, with food safety authorities and retailers managing the recall process and removing it from shelves, and emphasizing that it is a single source, rather than a nationwide problem of spinach production, [are hoping we] We won’t see a prolonged decline, but it’s still early days,” Kott said.
He said Rivera Farms, which temporarily lost its certification for growing spinach, must go through a process with the health department to make sure the food it was producing was safe.
“There will be some corrections that they will need to make to demonstrate that they are on top of this issue, about ensuring that any product that comes out of the farm is safe and adheres to the required food safety processes,” said Cote.
He said any spinach product on supermarket shelves is now safe to eat.
Rivera Farms said Wednesday it is conducting its own independent audit of the farm, which it hopes will lead to a “resumption of production.”
“By the time baby spinach from Riviera Farms is reintroduced to the market, it will be the safest and most vetted spinach supply in Australia,” said a farm spokesperson.
“As a company that has been providing quality products without incident since the 1880s, we are confident in our ability to restore supplies quickly and thank our customers for their strong support.
“Rivera Farms also thanks NSW Health and Victorian Health and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand for the expert advice they provided at a difficult time for our company and our employees.”
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, which are responsible for developing but not maintaining a food safety code, have stressed that this type of contamination is “rare”.
“FSANZ is working with state and territory food, health and agricultural authorities to develop guidance materials to help the industry prevent future incidents,” said a FSANZ spokesperson.