E. COLI OUTBREAK TRACED TO SPINACH FROM SALINAS VALLEY
In the current nationwide spinach E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, officials have traced the contaminated spinach to three California Salinas Valley counties. Bagged spinach originating from Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties have been pinpointed as the source. The three-county region produces more than half the nation’s spinach crop and has also been the source of eight E. coli outbreaks since 1995.
The recent spinach contamination has raised consumer concerns about fresh produce safety and officials are determining new food safety measures to minimize the occurrence of produce-related food borne illness. Fresh produce can become contaminated in the field from polluted irrigation water, in the plant from unsanitary equipment, or in the store from improper refrigeration. New measures could include taking water and soil samples and improved plant sanitation practices.
Since September 14, when the FDA first reported the outbreak, federal and state officials have inspected 10 fields and three processing plants in the Salinas Valley area. Officials have determined that the wide dispersal of illness across 25 states could have been caused by contamination early in the distribution process. To date, 173 cases of E. coli illness have been reported, including 27 cases of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), 92 hospitalizations and one death. New reports could be received into the first week of October.
Spinach from the rest of the U.S. has not been implicated in the current E. coli outbreak and is safe for consumption. While spinach has not yet returned to store shelves, food safety experts are in the process of devising new consumer buying safety measures which may include labeling fresh greens with information on product origin to strengthen consumer confidence in safe consumption of fresh produce. The CDC estimates that 73,000 cases of E.coli O157:H7 infection and 61 deaths occur in the United States each year.
"Written by Rev. Dr. Richard Browne