Beware of Bagged Spinach

Yesterday, the FDA issued a warning about the potential contamination of bagged fresh spinach. This warning came after 50 people in multiple states fell ill, with one fatality in Wisconsin. The significance of this warning is that it appears to be the same strain of E. coli.

In most cases, however, the origin of the contamination is yet unknown. Due to the uncertainty of the source, consumers nationwide have been warned not to eat bags of fresh spinach. E. coli infections, for the most part, generally resolve within five to 10 days.

In some cases, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and kidney failure could occur — especially among the young and the elderly. One specific strain of E. coli is O157:H7, first recognized during an outbreak in 1982 when people got sick after eating contaminated hamburgers. It is very important to take E. coli infections very seriously, since severe kidney failure can be fatal.

Preventing E. coli infections can be tricky. More than 73,000 cases of E. coli are reported each year, and it seems we see these outbreaks occurring more frequently. Most contaminated foods look and smell normal, so what can we do to avoid the risk?

• Proper hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water, specifically during all phases of food preparation, including counter tops and utensils.

• Meat products, if frozen, should be thawed in the refrigerator, not on your kitchen counter. Salads should be properly rinsed in warm water.

• Cook beef and chicken thoroughly, at least 160° F (internal temperature).

• Report any symptoms of food poisoning to your primary care physician so that proper treatment and potential precautions can be taken.

• Follow instructions from health department officials when special warnings are given.

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