Claim: Prepackaged salads and spinach may contain E. coli.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2006]
FDA Issues Nationwide Health Alert on Dole Pre-Packaged Salads
DATELINE recently featured a segment on popular salad mixes being sold in plastic bags in supermarkets. The documentary highlighted the entire production process and disclosed that
It has not been ascertained how the salad mix gets contaminated with
The public is warned not to buy any salad mix until the cause of the contamination has been determined.
The Dole Company has since recalled their product. For further information, check the MSNBC link below and click on "Launch" below the salad:
Origins: In May 2006, the warning quoted above began appearing in inboxes. It is a mixture of two items: an
October 2005 warning from the Food and Drug Administration about
Though thrown together from two sources, the
Escherichia coli are bacteria that live in the intestines of humans and animals. While most of its strains are harmless, one strain (O157:H7) produces a powerful toxin that results in severe illness in humans.
Since 1995, 19 confirmed outbreaks have sickened 400 people nationwide and caused two deaths.
While raw and undercooked meat are the culprits that first come to mind as carriers of the bacteria,
Though the outbreak the FDA issued its warning about occurred in October 2005, that agency does not yet know how the potentially deadly bacteria came to be in those prepackaged salads. The lettuce was washed a number of times during processing, which tends to rule out the most obvious mode. One theory advocates the pathogen was absorbed into lettuce leaves through the plant's root system, the bacteria being picked up from contaminated groundwater. Alternatively, the microbe could have been in the plastic bags used to package the salads.
It is that uncertainty that prompted the warning about bagged salads: because the method of contamination in that October 2005 outbreak has not been pinned down, the potential for further illness from the same source cannot be eliminated. Rinsing "ready to eat" salads at home may not be an effective countermeasure if
The e-mailed alert advocates swearing off packaged salads until the source of that October 2005 contamination has been isolated (which, in light of how much time has so far elapsed, one could reasonably conclude might well be never). Those who are super-cautious about matters relating to their family's health might wish to heed that suggestion. For those of slightly less cautious nature,
- But be sure you wash your hands before handling lettuce or any raw
produce ...especially if you have been in contact with any raw meat.
- Even though most of these bag salads are pre-washed and labeled "Ready to eat," experts say it doesn't hurt to wash it again.
- Keep that salad refrigerated.
- Check the expiration date before you eat it. Even if the lettuce looks good, you should know
E. colican grow quickly in greens that are deteriorating.
The Centers for Disease Control suggest the following ways to guard against ingesting
- Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly. Because ground beef can turn brown before disease-causing bacteria are killed, use a digital instant-read meat thermometer to ensure thorough cooking. Ground beef should be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least
160°F.Persons who cook ground beef without using a thermometer can decrease their risk of illness by not eating ground beef patties that are still pink in the middle.
- If you are served an undercooked hamburger or other ground beef product in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking. You may want to ask for a new bun and a clean plate, too.
- Avoid spreading harmful bacteria in your kitchen. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods. Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat. Never place cooked hamburgers or ground beef on the unwashed plate that held raw patties. Wash meat thermometers in between tests of patties that require further cooking.
- Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider. Commercial juice with an extended shelf-life that is sold at room temperature (e.g., juice in cardboard boxes, vacuum sealed juice in glass containers) has been pasteurized, although this is generally not indicated on the label. Juice concentrates are also heated sufficiently to kill pathogens.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially those that will not be cooked. Children under
5 yearsof age, immunocompromised persons, and the elderly should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts until their safety can be assured. Methods to decontaminate alfalfa seeds and sprouts are being investigated.
- Drink municipal water that has been treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants.
- Avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming.
- Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands carefully with soap after bowel movements to reduce the risk of spreading infection, and that persons wash hands after changing soiled diapers. Anyone with a diarrheal illness should avoid swimming in public pools or lakes, sharing baths with others, and preparing food for others.
Barbara "foodborne in the U.S.A." Mikkelson
| Unseen Danger in Bagged Salads (MSNBC)
| About E. Coli
|E. Coli Fact Sheet (Washington State Department of Health)
Last updated: 15 September 2006