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Food Poisoning Health Center

E. coli Outbreak: Questions & Answers

Information From Food Safety Expert and CDC About E. coli Outbreak and Fresh Produce
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Q. But there's no reason not to do another wash at home?

A. There's no reason not to, no. But the reason that FDA is asking for all of these products to come back is that they recognize that the washing step, if the organism was present, is not 100% effective.

Q. What about once this outbreak is resolved? Is it a good idea to get in the habit of doing another rinse at home?

A. I think it's one small level of assurance that consumers can use, but it is in no way a guarantee. I think it's a very minimal effect, and I don't want consumers to believe that their washing is going to take care of all of the problems for a fresh-cut product that's been bagged.

Certainly, that recommendation is very important for a product that's not packaged -- for a product that's in its whole state. Consumers can really make a difference in the wash.

Q. What's the best way to wash produce that is loose, not prepackaged?

A. Unfortunately, no one has the silver bullet for washing produce to assure that it's safe.

Different agencies will recommend that fruit and vegetables are washed with warm, soapy water, or that they're simply rinsed.

I've worked on produce for almost 15 years, and I can tell you that most of these washing interventions have a very minimal effect. They might remove 100 to 1,000 microorganisms on the surface. And when we look for something to be truly effective, we look at something that is 100,000-fold or a million-fold kill.

Unfortunately, it doesn't matter what the wash is, there's a limitation into what we can actually remove.

Q. Is there something about spinach that could make it more likely to carry E. coli than other bagged fresh produce? Is there anything about spinach or is that what we just happen to be seeing right now?

A. It just happens to be what we see right now.

Leafy vegetables, just because of the way in which they're structured and configured, makes organisms find spots where they're more difficult to remove, compared to, like, a tomato, which has a much smoother surface.

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