Mike Zielinski

Mike Zielinski

“I’m strong to the finich ‘cause I eats me spinach. I’m Popeye the sailor man.”

For most folks not named Popeye, eating spinach is the ultimate test of courage and iron will.

After all, on the palate-pleasing scale, spinach ranks a tad below such other culinary delights as chocolate fudge ice cream, marble cake smothered with chocolate icing, sticky buns and cheesecake.

Still, scolded by our parents to grow up and do the right thing, we closed our eyes as kids and gagged down some god-awful spinach in the mistaken belief that by doing so we would live happily ever after.

But not so fast, my friends.

There is an outside chance that eating spinach can put you six feet under or in a jar of your own ashes on a loved one’s mantel. Next thing you know they’ll foul the water at Lourdes or flatten the beer in Munich.

E. coli and salmonella on spinach can kill you. And even if it doesn’t, it can give you the runs so bad you’ll be going with the speed of a jackrabbit and wish you were dead.

Since I treat my sirloin strip of a body like a temple except for the times when I wash down my potato chips with Jack Daniel’s, you won’t have to twist my arm to take a pass on spinach. After all, a guy can’t be too careful.

Granted, if you eat cooked spinach, you should be safe. But not as healthy. Cooking spinach lowers its nutrients by 77 percent. You might as well eat linoleum. Better yet, reach for the saltwater taffy.

Raw spinach has more health benefits and nutrients than cooked spinach but if you eat spinach straight from the bag, you might be safer playing Russian roulette or, if you’re anti-gun, sticking your head in a lion’s mouth.

According to food safety researchers at the University of California, bacteria like E. coli and salmonella can survive the bleaching process used in some food processing plants because spinach has more folds and contours than a hippo. These folds and contours are so pronounced that only 15 percent of a typical spinach leaf is exposed to disinfectant.

The researchers took triple-washed spinach run under a disinfectant of 50 to 200 parts per million of bleach to water and re-washed it themselves with the same disinfectant.

What they discovered is more than enough to give spinach-haters a license to swear off the monstrous leafy green vegetable for life. They found that nearly 90 percent of the bacteria was still alive and well and just itching to do menace on the spinach.

There was a strain of E. coli outbreak in 2006 that affected 26 states and killed three people. Another outbreak in 2012 infected 33 people in five states. Just a hunch, but I suspect we haven’t seen the last of these outbreaks because it’s illegal to deport bacteria to Venezuela.

So now you know why they didn’t serve spinach – raw or cooked – at the Last Supper.

Mike Zielinski, a resident of Berks County, is a columnist, novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

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