This essay examines media accounts of the 2006 E. coli contamination of bagged spinach to piece together a forensics that demonstrates both the real and symbolic meanings of contamination. Following the path of production from field to processing plant and then to supermarket shelf, the essay maps a landscape of policed spaces and borders that have as much to do with preserving food safety as they do with providing a socially constructed sense of order. In line with anthropologist Mary Douglas's work on purity versus contamination, the essay scrutinizes the blurred boundary between organic and conventionally farmed foods, as well as the larger (possibly untenable) distinctions between nature and culture. Finally, the essay expands into a larger frame of debate to consider the way in which contamination inflects the national discourse on immigration.

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