Fact Check

E. Coli Spinach Warning

The FDA has advised consumers to not eat fresh spinach or fresh spinach-containing products

Published Sept. 17, 2006


Claim:   The FDA has advised consumers to not eat fresh spinach or fresh spinach-containing products until further notice.

Status:   Was true; warning has since been lifted.

Origins:   On 14 September 2006, the FDA issued a national alert about E. coli and ready-to-eat produce. Fresh

spinach was the vehicle of distribution in the September 2006 outbreak that has so far resulted in 187 reported cases of illness due to E. coli infection in 26 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), including 97 hospitalizations, at least 29 cases of kidney failure (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS) and the death of a 77-year-old Wisconsin woman.

The FDA advised the public in mid-September not to eat fresh spinach or fresh spinach-containing products until further notice, but they have since narrowed that warning to apply only to spinach from processing plants and farms in three California counties: San Benito, Santa Clara and Monterey. Consumers may now safely buy and eat fresh spinach provided they can verify that it was grown in an area other than those three California counties. Frozen and canned spinach should also be safe to eat. (Fresh spinach from the three implicated California counties should be avoided for now, whether or not it is bagged, and regardless of how thoroughly it may have been washed. This advisory also applies to any mixed salad products with spinach in their blends.)

The specific source of contamination for the September 2006 E. coli outbreak has been identified as Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, California. Its bagged spinach products are sold under the following brand names:

Natural Selection Foods, Pride of San Juan, Earthbound Farm, Bellissima, Dole, Rave Spinach, Emeril, Sysco, O Organic, Fresh Point, River Ranch, Superior, Nature's Basket, Pro-Mark, Compliments, Trader Joe's, Ready Pac, Jansal Valley, Cheney Brothers, D'Arrigo Brothers Co. of New York, Green Harvest, Mann, Mills Family Farm, Premium Fresh, Snoboy, The Farmer's Market, Tanimura & Antle, President's Choice, Cross Valley, and Riverside Farms.

The affected products were also distributed to Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Iceland. FDA says it is continuing to investigate whether other companies and brands are involved.

Natural Selection Foods recalled all of its spinach-containing products with "Best if Used by Dates" between 17 August 2006 and 1 October 2006.

Although no cases of illness have been linked to their products, River Ranch Fresh Foods (based in Salinas, California), has also recalled three of their spring mix salad brands that contain spinach: Farmers Market, Hy Vee, and Fresh and Easy.

Additional information:

FDA Announces Findings From Investigation
  FDA Announces Findings From Investigation of Foodborne E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak in Spinach

Statement on Foodborne E. coli Outbreak in Spinach
  Statement on Foodborne E. coli Outbreak in Spinach   (FDA)
E. Coli Outbreak Questions & Answers
  E. Coli Outbreak Questions & Answers   (FDA)
About E. Coli
  About E. Coli
    E. Coli Fact Sheet   E. Coli Fact Sheet   (Washington State Department of Health)

Last updated:   1 October 2006

  Sources Sources:

    Covarrubias, Amanda and David Pierson.   "A Revised Warning on Spinach."

    Los Angeles Times.   23 September 2006   (p. B1).

    Schoch, Debra, et al.   "Spinach Warning Expanded."

    Los Angeles Times.   17 September 2006   (p. A1).

    Schoch, Debra, et al.   "Another Supplier Recalls Spinach."

    Los Angeles Times.   18 September 2006   (p. B1).

    Associated Press.   "E. coli Outbreak Spreads to 10th State."

    15 September 2006.

    Associated Press.   "1 Dead in E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Spinach."

    14 September 2006.

    Associated Press.   "Pattern of E. Coli Outbreaks Is Seen."

    The New York Times.   19 September 2006.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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