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All spinach pulled due to E. coli outbreak

Kate Antonacci | Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Across the country, over 110 people have become ill and one person has died from an outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 linked to fresh spinach – and Notre Dame is taking steps to make sure that the number does not increase on their watch.

“This is an issue in every food service outlet and grocery store in North America,” said David Prentkowski, Director of Food Services.

Indiana is only one of 21 states to report E. coli cases linked to tainted spinach. Though Wisconsin has reported the most cases, the outbreak is still cause for concern.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a broad advisory to consumers on Sept. 14 to avoid spinach or any product containing spinach. Natural Selection Goods – a San Juan Bautistia, Calif. company – followed suit on Sept. 15 by issuing a “voluntary recall of every retain and foodservice product containing spinach with a ‘Best if Used By Date’ of Aug. 17 through Oct. 1.'”

Following the announcements, Notre Dame Food Services took immediate steps to pull spinach from salad bars in the dining halls and from all other food locations on campus.

“All uncooked spinach is in question,” Prentkowski said.

Among the persons reported ill, 53 percent were hospitalized, 16 percent developed a type of kidney failure and an adult in Wisconsin died. 75 percent of the cases were female and 5 percent were children under 5 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ninety-two percent of the cases arose between Aug. 19 and Sept. 5, the CDC reported.

Since E. coli has been found in various locations throughout the country, all “uncooked spinach is in question,” Prentkowski said.

The FDA has traced the contaminated spinach to produce grown in the Salinas Valley, Calif. area. Nearly 74 percent of the fresh-market spinach in the U.S. comes from California, according to the Associated Press.

“In cases like this, national communications make us aware of the issue so that we can react as quickly as possible,” Prentkowski said.

The recent outbreak is the latest in a string of “19 food-poisoning outbreaks since 1995” linked to lettuce and spinach, the AP reported.

Though federal health officials said Monday that tampering is not suspected, they will continue to probe for the source of the contamination – and continue to warn against eating fresh spinach products.

“We will not service until the United States Department of Agriculture states

that it is safe to do so,” Prentkowski said.

Though no cases have been reported on campus, there has been one case reported in the county, Prentkowski said, though it is not affiliated with Notre Dame.

Notre Dame has strict sanitation and food handling procedures to try to avoid such situations. To provide program assurance, Prentkowski said the University also has a safety manager on staff.

Prentkowski said E. coli is no more prevalent in spinach than it is a variety of fruits and vegetables.

“It is just important that everyone in the supply process follows the strict sanitation and food safety processes that are in place,” Prentkowski said.

States reporting cases include: California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to the CDC.

U.S. spinach is also distributed throughout Mexico and Canada.

E. coli in spinach can be killed by cooking at 160 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds, according to the CDC. Persons who “develop diarrhea after consuming fresh spinach or salad blends containing fresh spinach are urged to contact their health care provider.”