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E. coli Outbreak: Questions & Answers

Information From Food Safety Expert and CDC About E. coli Outbreak and Fresh Produce

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.

Q. Does cooking kill E. coli?

A. Yes.

Q. Is there a certain temperature it has to get to, or length of time?

A. To be totally safe, 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit for a few seconds would be adequate.

But the recommendation that comes out from FDA is to take the spinach and return it to the place at which you purchased it.

They want it to be returned for a couple of reasons. The first reason is to protect the consumer. The second reason is from a surveillance standpoint to find out where this is coming from. If they have bagged spinach that's returned, it can be tested and they can start their process of trying to identify the initial source of contamination.

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