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Mon, Sep 18 2006

E. Coli and spinach: what to do now

The fallout from the FDA's investigation of E. coli in spinach continues to spread. On Sunday, the agency issued an update listing 19 states with confirmed instances of illnesses related to contamination. The agency also recommended that consumers not eat fresh spinach or fresh spinach-containing products until further notice. That warning includes both bagged and loose fresh spinach.

The FDA also announced recalls on spinach from two specific packagers of bagged produce: River Ranch and Natural Selection Foods. The recall affects products containing spinach, including "spring mix" and other salad blends from the following brands: Bellissima, Cheney Brothers, Coastline, Compliments, Cross Valley, D'Arrigo Brothers, Dole, Earthbound Farm, Emeril, The Farmers Market, Fresh and Easy, Fresh Point, Green Harvest, Hy Vee, Jansal Valley, Mann, Mills Family Farm, Natural Selection Foods, Nature's Basket, O Organic, Premium Fresh, President's Choice, Pride of San Juan, Pro-Mark, Rave Spinach, Ready Pac, River Ranch, Riverside Farms, Snoboy, Superior, Sysco, Tanimura & Antle, and Trader Joe's.  Products that don't contain spinach are not part of the recall.

If you have these or any other fresh spinach or spinach-containing products, discard them immediately.  Do not attemp to wash the spinach since this won't remove all of the bacteria.  Although cooking will kill the bacteria, do not attept to cook the spinach since this risks cross-contaminating other foods in your kitchen.

In addition to avoiding fresh spinach, Consumer Reports recommends you follow these steps with all fresh produce:

  1. Although most fresh produce is safe to eat, it is prudent to treat all produce as if it could be contaminated.
  2.  Keep it separated from other foods in your refrigerator, as to avoid cross contamination with other foods and to slow down bacterial growth.  
  3. Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling and dry them with paper towels.  
  4. It’s prudent to make sure to discard any areas that are turning brown or show the slightest evidence of spoilage.    
  5. All produce needs to be washed thoroughly in a stream of water to remove any dirt that can harbor bacteria.
  6. Even if you buy pre-washed or triple washed salads, you need to wash them again
  7. Produce washes do not claim to kill harmful bacteria.  Washing in water may work just as well.
  8. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for meats and produce and thoroughly clean the preparation area after cutting and dry with paper towels.

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Welcome to Consumer Reports on Safety.  This blog allows us to provide up-to-date reports of product safety hazards that can imperil you and your family.  We'll cut through the ad hype, PR spin, and government rhetoric to give you unbiased insight and analysis of safety issues that are important to you.

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  • About the Bloggers

    Donald L. Mays

    Don Mays is Senior Director of Product Safety and Consumer Sciences at Consumers Union (CU), publisher of Consumer Reports. He leads the organization’s product safety program, designed to reduce the number of unsafe products in the marketplace. He also directs CU’s testing departments responsible for reports on a wide variety of consumer products including juvenile products, foods, health, and fitness products. Mays currently serves on the board of directors for the International Consumer Products Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO) and is an active member of the Executive Committee on Consumer Products for ASTM-International, a leading standard-setting organization. He holds a master's degree in mechanical engineering.

    Caroline Mayer
    Caroline Mayer is a former Washington Post reporter who has specialized in consumer issues. She has covered a wide range of consumer stories, including product safety, marketing (especially to children), scams, bankruptcy, and credit. Mayer wrote about many of these issues in a consumer blog that she launched for the Post in 2006. She has won several awards for her consumer coverage, including the Betty Furness Consumer Media Service Award in 2006.
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