The elder Muzzi is respected among growers. The Muzzis have no ties to Natural Selection, also known as Earthbound Farm. Even so, the spinach crisis has transformed their lives, and in an interview at their offices, they spoke of the tension that has enveloped them since late last week. Both father and son had bloodshot eyes.
Lisa was the one who first heard of the spinach contamination on the news, and she immediately called her brother. Their reaction was that if they hadn't received a call from the FDA, their product may be OK.
Instead, customers began calling -- lots of them.
"They're asking, 'Are you part of this?' You tell them no, not at this point," Dominic Muzzi Jr. said.
But customers still canceled their orders. All spinach processing stopped. The Muzzis went to meetings with growers, trying to make sense of the FDA blanket warning about fresh spinach.
Dominic Muzzi Jr. spoke cautiously, emphasizing that health and safety were his first concerns. Still, "If we're not a part of it, we would wish they would be more specific about it," he said.
On Tuesday, as the investigation progressed, growers and processors grew even more hesitant to discuss their mounting business problems. One grower complained of the media, "It's like you're digging for anything."
In one field, a television news crew aimed its camera at a picturesque scene of workers moving through rows of green leaves in the midafternoon sun. The green leaves were not spinach, but romaine, a nearby field supervisor said. Romaine lettuce has not been implicated in the \o7E. coli\f7 outbreak.
Situations like that have some farmers worrying that consumers may stay away from bagged lettuce as well.
"This will hurt people. There's no ifs, ands or buts," said George Bonacich, an apricot grower and first vice president of the farm bureau board in San Benito County, where Natural Selection is based.
The best news federal officials offered Tuesday was the hope that, with the recalls and news reports, people are no longer being exposed to the disease.
Although new cases continue to be identified, all of the illnesses reported so far occurred between Aug. 2 and Sept. 9, a window that hasn't changed in the last few days. Those who are going to fall ill usually do so within a week of exposure. It can then take another two weeks for a doctor to examine the patient and a lab to do tests.
"We may be looking at another three weeks before we really have final numbers," Acheson said. "But I hope exposure is done with."
Many farmers say that by the time they are given the all-clear, it will probably be too late, Michael Dobler, 44, of Moss Landing, is a third-generation farmer in business with his father, uncle and two cousins. Their Watsonville operation is 2,000 acres. They grow spinach, with 60 to 70 acres growing at one time.
Right now, Dobler is watching much of that spinach grow too mature to sell. "By the end of this week, there will be a lot of acres that will simply be too big to take to any market," he said Tuesday evening. "We're crossing the line right now. When you get to Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I've lost a lot of acres."
Dobler, who earned an MBA at Northwestern University, said the current situation is the kind of thing that pushes smaller operations out of business.
"In this day and age," he said, "you have to be big in order to absorb these kinds of shocks."
Schoch reported from San Juan Bautista and Engel from Los Angeles.