Spinach now safe but FDA still worried

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Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now saying it is safe to eat spinach and that they believe all the E. Coli-tainted spinach produced by the San Juan Bautista, California-based Natural Selection Foods company has been recalled, the FDA still has concerns.

The current outbreak may well be traced back to a specific field(s), but the FDA says there has been a long history of E. Coli O157:H7 outbreaks involving leafy greens from the central California farming region.

This latest outbreak which dates back to the middle of August affected 26 states,and to date, 187 cases of illness due to E. Coli O157:H7 infection have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including 29 cases of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), 97 hospitalizations and one death.

Natural Selection Foods recalled all implicated products on September 15, 2006 and four other companies also issued recalls because they had used the recalled products in salads and pizzas.

Many of the bags had been sold under the Dole brand name.

The FDA says although spinach processed by other manufacturers has not been implicated in this outbreak, based on discussions with the industry, and given the past record on E. Coli O157:H7 outbreaks, they expect the industry to review their current operations with regard to minimizing microbial food safety hazards.

Of 20 outbreaks of E. Coli 0157:H7 in leafy greens in 10 years, half have been traced to central California.

E. Coli is a common and usually harmless bacteria found in the guts of animals including people.

The 0157:H7 strain can be toxic and is found in the intestines and manure of cattle; it causes diarrhea, often with bloody stools and although most healthy adults recover completely within a week, some people can develop a form of kidney failure called HUS which is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly.

The condition can lead to serious kidney damage and even death.

There are now a total of 10 confirmed product samples that contain the E. Coli O157:H7 outbreak strain.

The FDA says it will continue to work closely with the CDC and state and local agencies to determine the cause and scope of the E. Coli O157:H7 outbreak in spinach.

The FDA website www.fda.gov gives further information and updates.

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