E. coli outbreak kills 1, sickens nearly 100

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Fresh spinach greens.

An E. coli outbreak linked to fresh bagged spinach in at least 20 states, has killed 1 person, a 77 year old woman in Wisconsin and has made more than 95 sick, some severely and affecting people anywhere from 3 to 84 years old. Michigan, Oregon, New Mexico, New York, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Idaho, Connecticut, Kentucky and Utah all report human cases of the illness linked to the contaminated spinach. All individuals sickened by the outbreak have the same strain, E. coli O157:H7. Officials are currently investigating cases in Washington, Pennsylvania and California to determine if the new cases are linked to the current outbreak.

"Based on the current information, FDA advises that consumers not eat bagged fresh spinach at this time. Individuals who believe they may have experienced symptoms of illness after consuming bagged spinach are urged to contact their health care provider," said a statement on the Food and Drug Administration's website.

Health officials report that the symptoms from eating any contaminated spinach are kidney failure or Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome [HUS] which can occur easily in children and elderly people, bloody diarrhea, mild fever and in some cases death. At least 14 of the infected have suffered kidney failure.

The 19 States affected by the E. coli outbreak

"Given the severity of this illness and the seriousness of the outbreak, FDA believes that a warning to consumers is needed. We are working closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] and state and local agencies to determine the cause and scope of the problem," added the statement.

Consumers are urged to throw out any fresh spinach they may have as washing it does not help, but officials say that cooking the spinach could kill the bacteria though officials still urge consumers to throw out all spinach.

"We are telling everyone to get rid of fresh bagged spinach right now. Don't assume anything is over," said Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. Wisconsin has seen the worst of the outbreak with one death reported and over 30 people infected.

"If you wash it, it is not going to get rid of it," said the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition director, Robert Brackett.

Health officials also say that they do not know what caused the contamination and do not know where the spinach originated from. Officials believe that the contamination was not "deliberate."

"It is too early to say where the spinach has come from. This is an active investigation and we will provide more information as it becomes available. We have no evidence that this was deliberate," said a spokeswoman for the FDA, Laura Alvey.

Logo of Earthbound Farm.

A company which produces natural foods in California is suspected to be the source of the illness. Natural Selection Foods LLC. located in San Juan Bautista, California has recalled all of their spinach voluntarily, including any food items containing the vegetable. Some of those infected with the illness have reported eating spinach which came from the company, but officials say that the outbreak may not be entirely isolated to just Natural Selection and that the investigation into the origin of the outbreak is still ongoing.

"We have temporarily stopped shipping spinach products, and have taken spinach out of our salads that contain them. Everyone at Earthbound Farm is terribly upset about these illnesses and death and their potential relationship to a product that is ordinarily a very healthy food choice. We are committed to producing exceptionally fresh and healthy produce. Quality and food safety continue to be our top priorities," said Natural Selections in a statement on its website. Natural Selections is operated by Earthbound Farm.

"It is possible that the recall and the information will extend beyond Natural Selection Foods and involve other brands and other companies, at other dates," said chief medical officer with the FDA's Center for Food Safety, Doctor David Acheson.

Natural Selection sells many different brand names of spinach including Dole, Trader Joe's, Green Harvest, Ready Pac, Earthbound Farm, Rave Spinach and their own brand of spinach, Natural Selections.

Officials say that more cases are expected to be reported, but many individuals will recover from the illness within a week.

E. coli, on average, affects more than 75,000 people a year and can kill as many as 60.

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