E. Coli Cases Traced to Bagged Spinach
Bacteria Kills One, Sickens Dozens in Eight States
By ANDREW BRIDGES, AP
WASHINGTON (Sept. 15) -- Consumers nationwide should not eat fresh bagged spinach, say health officials probing a multistate outbreak of E. coli that killed at least one person and made dozens of others sick.
Food and Drug Administration and state officials don't know the cause of the outbreak, although raw, packaged spinach appears likely. "We're advising people not to eat it," said Dr. David Acheson of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Eight states were reporting a total of 50 cases of E. coli, Acheson said Thursday.
The death occurred in Wisconsin, where 20 people were reported ill, 11 of them in Milwaukee. The outbreak has sickened others -- eight of them seriously -- in Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah. In California, state health officials said they were investigating a possible case there.
The outbreak has affected a mix of ages, but most of the cases have involved women, Acheson said. Further information on the person who died wasn't available.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wisconsin health officials alerted the FDA about the outbreak at midweek. Preliminary analysis suggested the same bug is responsible for the outbreak in all eight states.
The warning applied to consumers nationwide because of uncertainty over the origin of the tainted spinach and how widely it was distributed. Health officials did not know of any link to a specific growing region, grower, brand or supplier, Acheson said.
Amy Philpott, a spokeswoman for the United Fresh Produce Association, said that it's possible the cause of the outbreak won't be known for some time, even after its source is determined.
"Our industry is very concerned," she said. "We're taking this very seriously."
Reports of infections have been growing by the day, Acheson said. "We may be at the peak, we may not be," he said."
E. coli causes diarrhea, often with bloody stools. Most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, although some people -- including the very young and old -- can develop a form of kidney failure that often leads to death.
Anyone who has gotten sick after eating raw packaged spinach should contact a doctor, officials said.
Other bagged vegetables, including prepackaged salads, apparently are not affected. In general, however, washing all bagged vegetables is recommended. Thorough cooking kills the bacterium.
"We're telling people if they have bagged produce and they feel like it's a risk, throw it out," Michigan Department of Community Health spokesman T.J. Bucholz said. "If they feel like they have to eat it, wash it first in warm water."
E. coli lives in the intestines of cattle and other animals and typically is linked to contamination by fecal material. It causes an estimated 73,000 cases of infection, including 61 deaths, each year in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sources of the bacterium include uncooked produce, raw milk, unpasteurized juice, contaminated water and meat, especially undercooked or raw hamburger, the agency says on its Web site.
In December 2005, an E. coli outbreak sickened at least eight children in Washington state. Officials traced the outbreak to unpasteurized milk from a dairy that had been ordered to stop distributing raw milk.
Last October, the FDA warned people not to eat certain Dole prepackaged salads that were connected to an outbreak of E. coli infections in Minnesota. At least 11 people were sickened.
In 1993, a major E. coli outbreak sickened about 700 people and killed four who ate undercooked Jack in the Box hamburgers in Washington state. That outbreak led to tighter Agriculture Department safety standards for meat and poultry producers.
09-15-06 08:39 EDT