The Food and Drug Administration yesterday warned American consumers not to eat commercially bagged fresh spinach because it may be the source of a worsening outbreak of foodborne illness that so far has caused one death.... and from Kate at the Accidental Hedonist weblog.
In the past week, nine states have reported a total of 50 cases of severe diarrhea caused by Escherichia coli 0157:H7. Eight of the cases have led to a severe complication that causes kidney failure.
One of the more frustrating things about the bagged spinach/E.Coli outbreak is that there's very little specific data out there at the moment. When there's very little specific data, it sets up an environment of fear, ignorance and speculation. In other words - a panic....
E.Coli, or more distinctly - Escherichia coli O157:H7, is a nasty thing. According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 73,000 cases occur each year, leading to 61 deaths. It is caused by fecal transmission, and in the case of vegetables, most likely due to not cleaning the products efficiently. People here in the State of Washington get antsy about E. Coli. Back in 1993, three Washington children died and 600 others were sickened due to poisoning from E. coli O157:H7 served in undercooked Jack In The Box hamburgers. This happened due to Jack in the Box avoiding safety rules in cooking beef.
Here's where lettuce and beef part ways (not to mention the difference between state and federal approaches to food safety) - Washington State regulations required hamburgers be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees. In not soing so, Jack in the Box broke the law, and people died.
For prepackaged lettuce, there are no laws or regulations, only guidelines - guidelines created by the lettuce industry. Guidelines are suggestions, not requirements. In short, there's no weight of law if some company decides not to follow them.
My suggestion if you have plans for spinach this weekend? Buy fresh. Short of that - buy local. Sure, the chance of you getting E.Coli is small, even if you do buy a nationally distributed brand. But why would you give your business to anyone who plays fast a loose with food safety in order to save money?