By Dan Shapley
Farms or processors still may face civil suits for role in deaths and illnesses
The FBI will file no criminal charges after concluding its investigation into the E. coli-contaminated spinach that killed at least three and made hundreds, if not thousands, ill. Neither the California organic farm that grew the spinach, the cattle farm that owned the land, nor the two processing companies that handled the greens will face criminal charges. The companies involved still may face civil suits. Bacterial contamination of foods is something most people had associated with undercooked meats until recent vegetable contamination highlighted problems at some farms. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that most bacterial contamination now comes from vegetables, since meat processing has been cleaned up considerably by aggressive regulation and inspection programs. As federal agencies face the daunting task of policing not only domestic farms but an increasingly widespread network of international food producers, they can look to the USDA meat inspection program as a model for improving food safety -- in hopes that future outbreaks like the spinach episode can be avoided. That would take the question of criminality out of the equation, according to a story in the June 22 Los Angeles Times.