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Archive for Monday, September 18, 2006

Number of E. coli cases traced to tainted spinach rises to 109

September 18, 2006

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— The number of people sickened by an E. coli outbreak traced to tainted spinach rose to 109 on Sunday, as federal officials announced more brands recalling their products.

"This is unquestionably a significant outbreak in terms of E. coli," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer with the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Natural Selection Foods LLC, the world's largest producer of organic produce, has been linked to the infected greens, prompting a recall of 34 brands. Those brands include the company's own labels and those of other companies that had contracts with Natural Selection, based in San Juan Bautista, Calif., to produce or package its spinach.

On Sunday, River Ranch Fresh Foods of Salinas, Calif., added to its recall spring mixes containing spinach that were sold under the labels Hy-Vee, Fresh and Easy, and Farmers Market, FDA officials said. All contain spinach purchased from Natural Selection, they said.

The recalls came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intervened to help investigate the outbreak, which has killed a 77-year-old Wisconsin woman, officials said.

In Ohio, state health officials said they were investigating the death of a 23-month-old girl who was sickened by E. coli to determine whether the case was related to the outbreak. The girl's mother said she often buys bagged spinach.

CDC officials said Sunday they've started an Atlanta-based emergency operations center to help state health agencies with E. coli testing. Epidemiologists are helping test spinach samples and stool samples of infected people, center spokeswoman Lola Russell said.

The center is helping when state health agencies can't perform the tests or when a second opinion is needed, Russell said.

E. coli cases linked to tainted spinach have been reported in 19 states, with Wisconsin reporting the most.

Other states reporting cases were California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming, according to the CDC. The seven new cases reported Sunday were in states with previous illnesses, Acheson said.

The Food and Drug Administration continued to warn consumers not to eat fresh spinach or products containing fresh spinach until further notice.

The investigation by the FDA and the California Department of Health Services will widen today with the aim of tracing the spinach to individual farms, Acheson said.

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