Spinach producers in Texas do not intend to reduce acreage as they prepare fall plantings in spite of an outbreak of E. coli linked to California spinach that sickened 204 people in 26 states and in one Canadian province and caused three deaths.

“Spinach is vital to the Southwest Wintergarden region of Texas where almost 90 percent of the Texas spinach is grown,” says Jose Pena, professor and Extension Economist-Management, at Uvalde, Texas. “Texas produces about 9 percent of the nation’s spinach crop,” Pena says.

That’s far behind California at 71 percent, but still a high enough volume to reach a $12.6 million farm gate value. Pena says economic impact to communities supporting the spinach industry in Texas tops $44 million. (Figures are based on 2004 data.)

Pena says the Texas spinach industry in the Wintergarden area has prepared guides for workers in the industry. A document outlines “Good Agricultural Practices, which will be implemented to insure minimizing pathogen contamination in fresh market spinach production,” Pena says.

The document includes instructions on worker hygiene, sanitary production practices and harvest procedures; sanitary post harvest and packing shed procedures; and sanitary means to transport spinach to markets. The guide is still in draft form, Pena says.

“Spinach is healthy, safe to consume and important to Texas,” he says. “There is no doubt (the California outbreak) will cause fundamental food processing procedures to change. The industry is concentrating on how to prevent (another outbreak).”

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com