- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006


Spinach was absent from grocery store shelves, restaurant menus and family refrigerators yesterday after an outbreak of E. coli led a California company to recall packages of the leafy green from across North America.

Federal health officials linked prepackaged spinach distributed by Natural Selection Foods LLC throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico to the ongoing outbreak, which has killed one person and sickened nearly 100 others in 20 states. There are no known foreign cases.

Food and Drug Administration officials said food poisoning victims reported eating Natural Selection Foods spinach before getting sick.

The officials stressed that the bacteria had not been isolated in products sold by the holding company, based in San Juan Bautista, Calif., and known for Earthbound Farm and other brands. As the investigation continues, other brands might be implicated.

Prepackaged spinach in recent years has soared in popularity, particularly among women older than 40, according to the Agriculture Department.

Each year, consumers buy more than 500 million pounds of triple-washed raw spinach, packaged in cellophane bags and clamshell boxes.

The recall earned the praise of Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association.

“The FDA investigation and the voluntary action taken by Natural Selection Foods LLC help narrow concern about any continuing risk, and begins to ensure that product that may be potentially contaminated is removed completely from the food supply,” Mr. Stenzel said.

Meanwhile, a Seattle law firm said it planned to add Natural Selection Foods tomorrow to federal lawsuits already filed in Wisconsin and Oregon that named other spinach producers.

Not all strains of E. coli cause illness. Laboratory analysis has confirmed that the same strain, called O157:H7, is responsible for the current outbreak.

The spinach could have been contaminated in the field or during processing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Boiling contaminated spinach can kill the bacteria, but washing will not eliminate it.

Wisconsin accounted for 29 illnesses, about one-third of the cases, including the lone death. The victim’s son identified her as Marion Graff, 77, of Manitowoc, who died of kidney failure Sept. 7.



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