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F.ood & H.ealth : B.iological A.gents Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Tainted Spinach Search Zeroes in On One Batch
Sep 26, 2006, 09:33

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2nd tainted bag in Utah helps pinpoint a specific time, date and processing plant, California health official says

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 26 (HealthDay News) -- A second tainted bag of spinach, found in Utah over the weekend, has reportedly helped health officials pinpoint the E. coli contamination to one specific batch of fresh spinach in a California processing plant.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that California health officials said the Utah bag of Dole baby spinach and another of the same brand found in New Mexico last week were both processed during the same shift on Aug. 15 at Natural Selection Foods' San Juan Batista plant in the Salinas Valley.

"We are looking very aggressively at what was produced on that date," Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of prevention services for the California Department of Health Services, said late Monday. "Much of the feedback we got from patients right now was related to Dole packaging."

The investigation of the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that sickened scores of people across the country and left one woman dead had been focused on fresh spinach grown in three counties in California's Salinas Valley, where more than half the country's spinach crop is grown.

In particular, health officials were looking at products from Natural Selection Foods, a major grower that supplies numerous companies.

By Monday night, the number of people sickened in the month-long outbreak had climbed to 175 in 25 states; 93 people have been hospitalized and 28 have developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Also Monday, Triple B Corp. in Seattle announced it was recalling some salad products distributed in the Northwest because they may contain fresh spinach supplied by Natural Selection, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported.

Over the weekend, Pacific Coast Fruit Company, based in Portland, Ore., recalled salad and pizza that may have been made with spinach supplied by Natural Selection. The products were distributed in Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The Utah Department of Health and the Salt Lake Valley Health Department had confirmed Monday that E. coli had been found in a bag of Dole baby spinach purchased in Utah with a use-by-date of Aug. 30, 2006, the FDA said.

The discovery followed the Sept. 20 breakthrough New Mexico lab test that confirmed the E. coli strain in a partly eaten fresh spinach package from one victim.

FDA officials said last week that other produce grown in the Salinas Valley region was not implicated in the E. colioutbreak. They also said processed spinach, either frozen or canned, was not suspect.

And late last week, the FDA said consumers could resume eating fresh spinach, as long as agriculture industry officials came up with a way to label the products that didn't come from California's Salinas Valley.

As of Monday night, agriculture industry officials hadn't unveiled such a labeling program.

The E. coli outbreak has prompted federal officials to consider tighter regulation of the growing and processing of fresh spinach. Some consumer groups and agriculture experts have been critical of the regulatory process, citing what they called lax oversight of the agriculture industry.

Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said last week that, in November 2005, there had been a small outbreak of E. coli in spinach from the Salinas Valley. "More should have been done," he added. "We are learning from this outbreak."

In 18 other outbreaks of E. coli since 1995, the FDA has not been able to trace the outbreak to a specific farm, Acheson said.

In the current case, Acheson said last week, the "likelihood that we will get it back to a specific farm is good because of the number of cases and because of the UPC codes on the packages."

The earliest onset of illness known to be linked to spinach consumption was on Aug. 19.

The 25 affected states are: Arizona (7 cases), California (1), Colorado (1), Connecticut (3), Idaho (4), Illinois (1), Indiana (9), Kentucky (8), Maine (3), Maryland (3), Michigan (4), Minnesota (2), Nebraska (9), Nevada (1), New Mexico (5), New York (11), Ohio (20), Oregon (6), Pennsylvania (8), Tennessee (1), Utah (18), Virginia (2), Washington (3), Wisconsin (44), and Wyoming (1).

Wisconsin has the largest number of reported cases, and the one death, a 77-year-old woman.

Natural Selection Foods began recalling all of its prepackaged spinach and its salad mix products that contain spinach on Sept. 16. River Ranch Fresh Foods, which operates in Salinas and El Centro, Calif., recalled its brands of mixed salads containing spinach on Sept. 17, after FDA inspectors found that the company had bought spinach from Natural Selection. And last week, RLB Food Distributors, based in West Caldwell, N.J., said it was recalling salad mixes that may contain spinach supplied by Natural Selection.

According to the CDC, E. coli lives in the intestines of cattle and other animals and can be found in undercooked meats; vegetables like spinach, sprouts and lettuce, and unpasteurized milk and juice.

More information

For the latest E. coli updates, visit the CDC.

SOURCES: Sept. 22, 2006, news conference with David Acheson, M.D., chief medical officer, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Associated Press

Last Updated: Sept. 26, 2006

Copyright © 2006 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

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