Clean greens: Spinach industry checks for washed hands

It takes a lot of dirty boots to make sure the lettuce leaves are clean. This year in spinach, lettuce and kale fields throughout California and Arizona, state inspectors hired by the leafy greens industry are auditing fields to make sure pickers are washing hands and rinsing lettuce and spinach leaves carefully, and keeping a lookout for rodents. The goal of the Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement: to prevent a messy, sickening and crushingly expensive recall like the one that the spinach industry endured in 2006, with the outbreak of a harmful strain of Escherichia coli, or any of the salmonella-related recalls of 2009 (peanuts, pistachios, and pepper, oh my!).

Why is the industry monitoring its own safety? It's certainly not because the FDA or USDA is calling for more vigilance, or threatening penalties. It's not because they want more oversight (in fact, for decades now, the industry has been lobbying against it). It's because, frankly: the industry is afraid the U.S. consumer can't take much more and will realize how extraordinarily easy it is to grow lettuce.