By Ashley Myers Henderson
As the number of E. coli cases continue to rise, spinach has been pulled from shelves across the nation as consumers demand answers.
In a statement released by the Food and Drug Administration Thursday, Sept. 21, 2006, the outbreak extends over 23 states, with 146 cases, 76 hospitalizations and one death reported.
Sixteen cases have been cited in Utah alone, according to the Utah Department of Health.
“This is an example of wide-spread contamination from a main source,” said Eugene Cole, BYU professor in the Health and Science Department who specializes in environmental health. “There are going to be ramifications for the [spinach] industry. It will undergo further enforcement and regulation. This type of thing shouldn”t happen if people are using proper safety measures.”
The Utah Department of Health has released a statement echoing the precautions issued by the FDA, urging people not to consume anything with fresh spinach or spinach-containing products.
“It is important [that] people recognize that new cases are not developing,” said Cody Craynor, spokesman for the Utah Department of Health. “The most recent cases date back to Sept. 4. Although we continue to report new cases, we are simply confirming people who are already sick. People should be aware, however, that it is wise to stay away from spinach for the time being.”
Officials are still investigating what caused the spinach to become contaminated, but Cole believes there are two likely possibilities.
“The contamination is so widespread that the problem points to the irrigation system,” he said. “The other possible explanation is unauthorized fertilizer containing untreated animal and human waste.”
Erin Maughan, a BYU nursing professor and community contact for the Nursing Department, said the problem with this particular strand of E. coli is that it comes through bowel movements.
Although the outbreak has affected many across the nation, Cole said she believes positives can be gained from the experience.
“If one good thing is to come out of this outburst it is the increased awareness about food safety, which will result in added protection for the consumer,” he said.
Cole and Maughan said they agree there are several ways people can protect themselves against E. coli:
*Wash fruits and vegetables before peeling, cooking or eating them
*Cook spinach, including frozen spinach, at 160 degrees Fahrenheit for several minutes
*Drink only pasteurized milk
*Wash hands after going to the bathroom
The E. coli found in spinach has caused three manufacturers to recall their products. On Friday,Sept. 15, 2006, Natural Selection Foods, LLC, of San Juan, Bautista, Calif., voluntarily recalled all of its products containing spinach with “best if used by” dates between Aug. 17 and Oct. 1. Any products that do not contain spinach were not recalled.
On Monday, River Ranch, of Salinas, Calif., also voluntarily recalled it packages that contained spinach. River Ranch obtains its spinach from Natural Selection Foods.
The final recall occurred on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006, when RLB Food Distributors, L.P., based in West Caldwell, N.J., voluntarily recalled salad products containing spinach that should be consumed before Sept. 20.
Despite the recent outbreak, Maughan said there is no reason to fear spinach in the future.
“It”s definitely not something to be paranoid about by any means, but it will happen again some day,” she said. “Things are being done right now to take precautions, but there will be other outbreaks. This isn”t the first and it won”t be the last, but there is no need to be alarmed.”