Wednesday, April 4, 2007
The 2006 bagged spinach E. coli outbreak ended Oct. 6, 2006. The Food and Drug Administration
traced all infections to fields owned by Natural Selection Foods in California, but they don't
know (or aren't saying) what caused the outbreak; media speculation ran from deer to field hands.
The total infected was 204 people in 26 states; 103 required hospitalization and three died.
The FDA reports that since 1995, there have been 19 leafy greens E. coli outbreaks, so how can
you protect yourself? The best defense is proper storage, hygiene and preparation.
Store produce separately in a clean refrigerator set at 40°. Cut away damaged areas and wash
to remove bacteria and pesticides. Wash all produce—even if you'll peel it—with at least running
water, then dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Veggies marked as washed are good to go.
When preparing produce, avoid contamination from other foods by using separate cutting
boards, dishes and utensils, and washing counter-tops with hot, soapy water. Make an effective
sanitizer by adding a teaspoon of bleach to a quart of water and wiping counters and boards between
uses. Finally, cooking will kill E. coli.
Should you be scared? No; be smart by properly handling foods (see the FDA's website for
the FDA's recommendations). Just 204 infections in 26 states means the odds of getting sick last fall
were infi nitesimal, especially when you consider that Americans annually consume more than 670
million pounds of spinach.