- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal agents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) intervened this weekend to help investigate an E. coli outbreak tied to tainted spinach from California’s Central Valley.

The greens, which appear to be grown by the world’s largest producer of organic produce, have sickened 101 persons and killed a 77-year-old woman, said health officials.

CDC officials said yesterday that they’ve started an Atlanta-based emergency operations center to help state health agencies with E. coli testing. Epidemiologists are helping test spinach samples and stool samples of those who have been infected, center spokeswoman Lola Russell said.

The center is helping state health agencies that can’t perform the tests or when a second opinion is needed, Miss Russell said.

E. coli cases linked to tainted spinach have been reported in 19 states, with a majority of cases in Wisconsin.

Other states reporting cases were California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming, according to the CDC.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continued to warn consumers not to eat fresh spinach or products containing fresh spinach until further notice.

Natural Selection Foods LLC recalled its packaged spinach throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico as a precaution after federal health officials said some of those hospitalized reported eating brands of prepackaged spinach distributed by the company.

However, some restaurants and retailers may be taking spinach out of bags before selling it, so consumers shouldn’t buy it at all, the FDA said.

Boiling contaminated spinach can kill the bacteria, but washing won’t eliminate it, the CDC warned.

“We’re still in the process of alerting people of the fact that they need to check the refrigerator,” Miss Russell said.

The spinach could have been contaminated in the field or during processing. About 74 percent of the fresh market spinach grown in the U.S. comes from California, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Federal officials stressed that the bacteria had not been isolated in products sold by Natural Selection Foods, based in San Juan Bautista, Calif., and known for Earthbound Farm and other brands. As the investigation continues, other brands may be implicated, officials said.

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