Spinach & E. coli: Questions & Answers
Answers to 14 Questions About the E. coli Outbreak in Spinach
Q. For people who used to eat fresh spinach often, what are some alternatives?
A. If you're looking for fresh greens, try lettuces such as radicchio,
escarole, and romaine. Arugula, collard greens, mustard greens, and kale are
other options, say Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, and Lola O'Rourke, RD, spokeswomen
for the American Dietetic Association.
The spinach ban could be an opportunity to experiment with other greens,
says O'Rourke, who is based in Seattle.
"We don't want people to stop eating fresh fruits and vegetables,
because they're so important for good health," says Jamieson-Petonic.
"They're wonderful sources of vitamins and minerals."
Jamieson-Petonic manages the Fairview Hospital Wellness Center in Rocky
River, Ohio, near Cleveland.
Q. Can you trust fresh spinach that's locally grown, such as spinach from farmers markets?
A. Until further notice, the FDA advises people not to eat fresh spinach
from any source, including supermarkets, restaurants, and farmers markets.
"There's no evidence to indicate that spinach that is obtained from a
local farmers market outside of the areas that have been implicated with the
outbreak -- the three counties that we discussed [California's Monterey, San
Benito, and Santa Clara counties] -- is in any way implicated in this
outbreak," Acheson tells WebMD.
"The difficulty with putting out a nationwide consumer message is
obviously the need for clarity," he says.
"If an individual ... knows exactly where the spinach was grown, and
they know it wasn't implicated in an area of concern as part of this outbreak,
then obviously it would be safe to consume," Acheson says.
The FDA is working on a process to allow spinach not grown in the three
California counties to be allowed back on store shelves, but that plan isn't in
Q. Should we worry about frozen spinach, canned spinach, or spinach baby food?
At this time, the FDA has no evidence frozen spinach, canned spinach, or
spinach in premade meals manufactured by food companies are affected. These
products are safe to eat, according to the FDA.
"Frozen spinach is normally 'blanched' with hot water or steam prior to
being frozen, which should be effective for destroying E. coli," Linton
"The thermal process given for all low-acid foods, including baby food
and canned spinach, is done at 230 [degrees Fahrenheit] or higher, where E.
coli will be destroyed. E. coli is destroyed at 160-165 [degrees
Fahrenheit," Linton says.
Q. Can people cook fresh spinach or salad blends containing fresh spinach?
A. The FDA currently recommends that the public not consume fresh (uncooked)
spinach or salad blends containing fresh spinach. However, E. coli O157:H7 in
spinach can be killed by cooking at 160 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.
If consumers choose to cook fresh spinach, they should follow these cooking
instructions and also take steps to avoid cross-contamination between the fresh
spinach and other food or food- contact surfaces. They should wash hands,
utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling fresh