Australians reassured spinach in supermarkets is safe as sales drop 30% in wake of poisonings | Food safety

Australians are being reassured that spinach is safe to eat, after sales dropped by 30% this week amid concerns that weeds mixed in with some of the leafy green products poisoned about 200 people.

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Shoppers are leaving bags of spinach on supermarket shelves during the busiest time of the year after Riviera Farms products were recalled this week amid a contamination scare.

On Wednesday Riviera Farms and Victorian 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.

The bags of spinach were recalled after the alarm was first raised on Saturday.

Agriculture Victoria were contacted for comment.

Michael Coote, chief executive of vegetable peak industry body Ausveg said many growers had experienced a drop in sales of 30%.

“It varies depending on the business, who their main customers are, but there is a notable drop in orders,” Coote said.

“It’s concerning given that the lead 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 would hit some hard he said growers were “cautiously optimistic” it would not last long.

“Given how quickly this incident was handled, with food safety authorities and retailers managing the recall and getting it off shelves, and the confirmation that it was a single source, not a wide issue around spinach production nationally, we [are hoping we] won’t see the prolonged drop, but it is still early days,” Coote said.

He said Riviera Farms, which has temporarily lost its certification to grow spinach, would have to go through a process with the health department to ensure the food it was producing was safe.

“They’ll be some rectifications they will need to undertake to prove they are on top of this issue, around ensuring any product that comes off the farm is safe and does adhere to requisite food safety processes,” Coote said.

He said any spinach product on supermarket shelves now was safe to eat.

On Wednesday Riviera Farms said it was conducting its own independent audit of the farm, which it hoped would lead to “recommencing production”.

“By the time that Riviera Farms baby spinach is re-introduced to market it will be the safest, most audited spinach supply in Australia,” a spokesperson for the farm said.

“As a company that has been supplying quality produce without incident since the 1880s, we are confident we can quickly restore supply and thank our clients for their strong support.

“Riviera Farms also thanks NSW Health, Victorian Health and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand for their expert advice at what has been a difficult time for our company and staff.”

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, which is responsible for developing the food safety code but not maintaining it stressed this type of contamination was “infrequent”.

“FSANZ is working with state and territory food, health and agriculture authorities to develop guidance materials to assist industry to prevent future incidents,” a spokesperson said.

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