Oct. 2, 2006 -- The FDA's warning on fresh spinach has gotten narrower: It now applies only to products containing fresh spinach from Natural Selection Foods with a date code of Oct. 1 or earlier.
The warning is due to the current outbreak of E. coli infections, which has caused at least one death and scores of illnesses.
"All spinach implicated in the current outbreak has traced back to Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, California," the FDA announced on Sept. 29.
Natural Selection Foods recalled all its products containing fresh spinach on Sept. 15. Four other companies followed with their own recalls of products containing fresh spinach bought from Natural Selection Foods.
Those four companies are River Ranch of Salinas, Calif., RLB Foods of West Caldwell, N.J., Triple B Corp. (doing business as S.T. Produce) of Seattle, and Pacific Coast Fruit Company of Portland, Ore.
The FDA is still investigating the E. coli outbreak. Exactly how E. coli got into the spinach isn't yet known.
The FDA says it will hold a public meeting later this year, once the spinach investigation is over, to address the larger issue of food-borne illnesses linked to leafy greens.
Here are some questions and answers related to the current outbreak:
Q. What brands are covered in the spinach warning?
A. The warning applies to recalled products containing fresh spinach from Natural Selection Foods and four other companies that recalled products containing fresh spinach bought from Natural Selection Foods.
Here is a list of recalled products by company, as listed by the FDA. Other products from these companies have not been recalled.
Natural Selection Foods:
The recall includes all products containing spinach in all brands they pack with "Best if Used by Dates" of Aug. 17, 2006, through Oct.1, 2006. These products include spinach and any salad with spinach in a blend, both retail and food service products.
Natural Selection Foods, LLC brands include: Natural Selection Foods, Pride of San Juan, Earthbound Farm, Bellissima, Dole, Rave Spinach, Emeril, Sysco, O Organic, Fresh Point, River Ranch, Superior, Nature's Basket, Pro-Mark, Compliments, Trader Joe's, Ready Pac, Jansal Valley, Cheney Brothers, D'Arrigo Brothers Co. of New York, Green Harvest, Mann, Mills Family Farm, Premium Fresh, Snoboy, The Farmer's Market, Tanimura & Antle, President's Choice, Cross Valley, and Riverside Farms.
The affected products were also distributed to Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Iceland.
The recall included packages of spring mix containing spinach. River Ranch obtained bulk spring mix containing spinach from Natural Selections.
The following brands are involved: Fresh N' Easy Spring Mix and Hy-Vee Spring mix containing baby spinach, distributed to retailers in Texas, Iowa, New Mexico, Georgia, and Ohio.
These products were packed in 5 oz. bags and 5 oz. plastic trays.
RLB Food Distributors:
The recall included certain salad products that may contain spinach with an "Enjoy Thru'" date of 9/20/06 (Sept. 20).
The products recalled by RLB are: Balducci's Mesclun Mix 5 oz., Balducci's Organic Baby Spinach 5 oz., Balducci's Mixed Greens 5 oz., FreshPro Mesclun Mix 5 oz., FreshPro Organic Baby Spinach 5 oz., FreshPro Mixed Greens 5 oz., FreshPro Salad Mix with Italian Dressing 4.75 oz., and FreshPro Salad Mix with Ranch Dressing 5.25 oz.
Triple B Corp. (Doing Business as S.T. Produce):
The recalled products were distributed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana to retail stores and delis and were sold in a hard plastic clamshell container.
The products recalled by S.T. Produce are: NWG Spinach Salad (5 oz.), Spinach Salad, QFC (5 oz.), Charlie's Spinach Salad (5 oz.), Charlie's Tabouli & Goat Cheese Salad (10 oz.), NWG Tabouli & Goat Cheese Salad (10 oz.),Tabouli & Goat Cheese Salad, QFC (10 oz.), T/H Spring Mix Salad (5.5 oz.), T/H Mozzarella Spring Mix Salad (5.5 oz.), T/H Baby Spinach Salad (5.5 oz.), Walnut and Blue Cheese Salad w/ Grilled Chicken Breast (6.5 oz.), Larry's Market Tabouli & Goat Cheese Salad (10 oz.), Charlie's Seasonal Greens Salad (2.5 oz.), Charlie's Seasonal Greens Salad (4 oz.), Charlie's Baby Spinach Salad (6 oz.), Charlie's Baby Spinach Salad (5 oz.) and Caesar Bowtie Noodle Salad Kit with Grilled Chicken Breast (6.9 lbs).
Pacific Coast Fruit Company:
Baby Spring Mix Salad Kit (4.6 lbs), Chef on the Run -- Bacon Spinach Salad (9 oz. plus 2 fl. oz. dressing), Chef on the Run -- Spring Greens Salad (5 oz. plus 2 fl. oz. dressing), Chef on the Run -- Willamette Valley Salad (10 oz. plus 2 fl. oz. dressing), Trader Joe's -- Baby Spinach and Greens with Bleu Cheese, Candied Pecans and Cranberries with Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing (10 oz.), Trader Joe's -- Baby Greens and Spinach Salad with Wild Maine Blueberry Dressing (10 oz.), Mediterranean Veggie Blend Kit -- 15 lbs, and My Brothers Pizza Spinach and Garlic -- 15 oz. and 36 oz.
Most of the salad products can be identified by the labels Trader Joe's, My Brothers Pizza, or Chef on the Run and are in clamshell containers. Pizza products are in round cardboard bottoms with a plastic wrap.
All salad products will have a "USE BY DATE" on or before Sept. 20, 2006. Pizza products will have a "USE BY DATE" on or before Sept. 23, 2006. The products were distributed through various retail outlets in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho; they weren't distributed internationally.
Q. What is E. coli?
A. E. coli is a bacterium. There are hundreds of strains of E. coli bacteria; the strain involved in the current outbreak is E. coli O157:H7.
Q. Is this strain of E. coli more dangerous than other strains?
"E. coli O157 is a particularly dangerous type of E. coli because it can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome," a form of kidney failure, says CDC spokeswoman Christine Pearson. "So it can be more severe for people."
Q. What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?
E. coli O157:H7 causes diarrhea, often with bloody stools.
"Anybody who does develop diarrhea after consuming fresh spinach should see their doctor and also ask [the doctor] to take a specimen for testing," Pearson says.
Most healthy adults recover completely within a week, but some may develop hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Q. How long does it take for symptoms of E. coli infection to appear?
A. "Twelve to 36 hours, normally. Up to a week in some cases," Richard Linton, PhD, tells WebMD. Linton is a professor of food science and the director of the Center for Food Safety Engineering at Purdue University.
Q. What is hemolytic uremic syndrome?
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a life-threatening complication of E. coli infection affecting the kidneys.
Even with intensive care treatment, the death rate for hemolytic uremic syndrome is 3% to 5%, according to the CDC.
Q. Do most infected people develop hemolytic uremic syndrome?
A. No. An estimated 2% to 7% of infections lead to this complication, according to the CDC's web site.
Q. For people who want to try other greens, 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.
Jamieson-Petonic manages the Fairview Hospital Wellness Center in Rocky River, Ohio, near Cleveland.
Q. Should we worry about frozen spinach, canned spinach, or spinach baby food?
At this time, the FDA has no evidence that frozen spinach, canned spinach, or spinach in pre-made 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 steamed prior to being frozen, which should be effective for destroying E. coli," Linton explains.
"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. Does cooking kill E. coli in spinach?
A. 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 spinach.
Q. What does the FDA recommend doing with recalled fresh spinach products?
A. The FDA recommends that the recalled fresh spinach products be thrown away.