Ellen Kanner with the Sun-Herald points out that fresh produce may not always be stored below 41 degrees fahrenheit to prevent spoilage and the growth of pathogenic bacteria, the outbreak problem is not the temperature at which fresh produce is stored. It is that produce is contaminated in the first place.
While the CDC, FDA, and the produce industry are working to curb outbreaks, consumers cannot prevent their fresh produce from being contaminated just by properly refrigerating. Produce destined for consumers’ plates needs to reach them without pathogenic bacteria already present.
Investigators have identified a possible source – tainted cow manure from a neighboring pasture. How the manure got to the spinach fields isn’t clear. Other possible causes are still being explored, from tainted irrigation water to errors made in processing. Some experts claim bagging produce keeps bacteria at bay, but others assert it creates a greenhouse effect when produce isn’t kept at optimum conditions.
Supermarkets try to keep their refrigerator cases at 41, but often the temperature goes higher. It goes far above 41 on kitchen counters, where we trust the fresh produce we’ve just bought will be safe if we leave it out for a bit. At room temperature, bacteria proliferate.