The U.S. Food and Drug Administration alerted the public to an outbreak of E. coli linked to bagged fresh spinach. The agency advised consumers to avoid raw, fresh spinach and to notify their doctors if they've gotten sick after eating it.
Q: What is E. coli, and how does it spread?
A: E. coli is a common bacteria found in the stomachs and intestines of humans and animals. Most strains are harmless.
However, the strain of E. coli causing the current outbreak, can make people very ill. It causes diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps and can lead to kidney failure and death.
The bacteria is most often spread from animal feces to humans through ground meat that becomes contaminated during slaughter and processing and is not thoroughly cooked. It can also be spread from contaminated water supplies and can be carried on the surface of raw fruits and vegetables and spread through improper handling during food preparation.
Q: What caused the current outbreak?
A: No one knows for certain at this time. The outbreak has been traced to nine farms in the Salinas Valley area of central California, which grows much of the nation's spinach. Officials of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are trying to find the source of the bacteria.
Q: Can I still find fresh spinach at my supermarket?
Probably not. Many supermarkets last week yanked bagged spinach from their shelves, and some stores were removing all fresh spinach.
Q: How can I protect my family?
A: Get rid of any packaged fresh spinach or salad mix containing leaf spinach and avoid spinach until food-safety authorities say it is safe to purchase more. Also, wash all fruits and vegetables.
Wash before peeling, cutting or otherwise preparing them for eating, and wash your hands before putting fruits and vegetables into pots for cooking or into dishes for serving raw.
Q: What do I do with the bags of spinach I have?
A: Throw them away unopened or return them to the store where they were purchased.
Washing well will not assure that all the bacteria are removed, and you risk cross contamination.
Returning the produce could help public health officials determine the scope of the problem faster, and some area stores are offering refunds on packaged spinach.