FDA To Consumers: Don't Eat ANY Fresh Spinach - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

9/18/06

FDA To Consumers: Don't Eat ANY Fresh Spinach

The Food and Drug Administration said Monday consumers should not eat any fresh spinach as investigators look for the source of E. coli bacteria that has sickened at least 109 people.

The initial FDA advisory late last week focused on bagged spinach.

Dr. Robert Brackett of the FDA told CNN, "We've expanded the warning actually to all of the fresh spinach. That's because we learned that some of the companies that produced the consumer bag spinach also produced larger food-service size.

Brackett said another concern is that restaurants or stores may use consumer-size bags of spinach to stock their salad bars or bulk bins.

"We want to make sure consumers are aware that they don't consume any of the fresh spinach. We don't know whether it came from the bag or another state. We just don't have the focus down that much yet," he said.

Spinach producers are voluntarily recalling their products. Brackett said the FDA does not have the power to order a recall but is working with the producers.

They do have the power to seize contaminated products, but Brackett said investigators can't do that until they determine the exact source of the contamination.

"It could come from the irrigation water, animals in the field, from the workers, from a piece of equipment that's contaminated. We just don't know," he said. "Until we figure that out, we don't want to go down the wrong road. We're looking at all possibilities."

The number of people sickened by the E. coli bacteria traced to fresh spinach has reached 109.

One death blamed on outbreak

Investigators have blamed a death in Wisconsin on the outbreak, which has been identified in 19 states, said Dr. David Acheson of the FDA.

All 109 were infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli 0157:H7, he told reporters in a telephone conference call Sunday night. Of them, 55 were hospitalized, 16 with a form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Acheson said the number of reported cases could increase Monday, when public health departments, many of which were closed over the weekend, reopen.

As it is, he said, "This is unquestionably a significant outbreak."

Also Sunday, authorities expanded their recall of products containing spinach to include "Spring Mix" made by the River Ranch Fresh Foods, LLC, in Salinas, California. The company obtained its spinach from Natural Selection, the company which issued the initial recall of spinach products on Friday.

Sunday's recall affects three brands: Farmers Market, Hy Vee and Fresh and Easy, Acheson said.

River Ranch President and CEO Robert V. Jenkins said he was advised Saturday of the need for the voluntary recall.

"We are all eagerly waiting for them to come up with a cause for this so that we are able to identify solutions," he said.

The ongoing investigation is being carried out jointly by the FDA and the California Department of Health Safety's Food and Drug Branch.

Investigators will begin Monday carrying out "traceback" studies, where they go to the farms that grew the suspect vegetables for Natural Selection, to see if they can find the source of the bacteria.

So far, the evidence implicating spinach is based on epidemiological data that show the people who became sick ate the spinach, Acheson said. It can take two weeks or longer from the time a person seeks medical attention until the time a laboratory is able to confirm the diagnosis, he said.

Asked if he had any advice for farmers, many of whom are bewildered over what they should do with the spinach in their fields, he said, "Given the state of the investigation, I don't."

Asked when it would be safe for Americans to resume eating fresh spinach, he said, "As soon as we are sure that we've got this under control and that the outbreak is over and that we have figured out, as best we can, what the problems are and fixed them."

No evidence of foul play

Washing the leaves well will not necessary offer protection, he said, noting that there is evidence that E. coli can get inside the leaf.

The FDA said Friday it linked the outbreak to products packaged by the California-based Natural Selection Foods/Earthbound Farm. The company initiated a voluntary recall of all its spinach products with "best if used by" dates of August 17 through October 1.

Asked whether terrorism or foul play may be involved, Acheson said he had seen no evidence to support that theory, but did not rule it out. "In my job, I always have to keep that in the back of my mind as a possibility," he said.

Acheson said the CDC determined that the first illness from E. coli bacteria happened August 2.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea and vomiting, and the bacteria can lead to more severe complications, particularly in the very young or elderly, including anemia and kidney failure.

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