Don't Eat That Bagged Spinach - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

9/15/06

Don't Eat That Bagged Spinach

The FDA issued the warning Thursday night, just one day after receiving information about the growing number of E. Coli cases, which began in mid-August and stretched from Connecticut to Oregon.

Now investigators are on the hunt for the outbreak's source.

The FDA says bagged spinach appears to be the common link in the outbreak.

David Acheson, chief medical officer at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, warned reporters in a conference call that the number of infections is growing.

"It's increasing by the day. All I can say is that I don't know. We may be at the peak, we may not," Acheson said.

For reasons authorities say aren't clear, most of the victims are women, like 27-year-old Gwyn Wellborn, of Salem Ore.

"I had food poisoning before, but this was pretty severe," Wellborn said. "So I knew this was something a little different."

Wellborn got sick after eating a spinach salad and spent 13 days in the hospital.

At one point, doctors told her to expect the worst.

"I was scared. They weren't sure if I'd make it another couple hours or another day," she said.

E. Coli infections aren't unusual. Every year there are an estimated 73,000 cases and 61 deaths in the United States.

But these new cases involve one of the most virulent strains of E. Coli - the same type as the 1993 outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants in Washington State where 700 people got sick - and four people died - from contaminated meat.

"Most organisms such as E. Coli - you have to consume large quantities to make you sick. What sets this apart is you only have to consume small quantities to make you sick," said Dr. Roger Clemens of the University of Southern California's School of Pharmacy.

The new outbreak has hit one of the increasingly popular items on grocery store shelves. Sales of bagged spinach have been increasing 17 percent a year.

And the industry is not remaining quiet.

"Our industry is very concerned. We're taking this very seriously," said Amy Philpott, of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

The FDA gave no information about a specific brand of bagged spinach and other bagged vegetables, like prepackaged salads, aren't affected.

Experts say that the elderly, the young and those with weak immune systems are most likely to be at risk.

But even the young and healthy, like Wellborn, can be affected.

 

This story was taken by ABC NEWS

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