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Update on the E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks related to US fresh spinach


On 14 September 2006 (US time), the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised the consumers not to consume bagged fresh spinach in response to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 with one death and multiple hospitalisations in several states. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) immediately contacted the U.S. Consulate General for more information and requested for temporary export suspension of bagged fresh spinach to Hong Kong until the problem was resolved. At the same time, since the affected products might have been exported to Hong Kong, CFS requested relevant local importers and retailers to stop importing and selling of US bagged spanich.

Subsequently, FDA announced that all spinach implicated in the current outbreak was traced back to Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, California and four fields that supplied the spinach to the Company. FDA also informed the public that Natural Selection Foods had recalled all spinach products under multiple brand names with a date code (best use-by date) of October 1 or earlier. There had been five other recalls from different companies because they used Natural Selection Foods spinach. The FDA had later confirmed that fresh spinach with date codes later than 1 October 2006 were allowed to be sold in the US, including fresh spinach with brand names that were involved in the recall. The FDA has also confirmed that the four fields that produced spinach leading to the illness are no longer producing ready to eat produce.

CFS has already informed the trade of the latest information and will continue to monitor safety of fresh spinach from the US.

What is E. coli O157:H7?

E. coli O157:H7 is a strain of Escherichia coli that lives in the intestines of humans and other warm-blooded mammals. This pathogenic E. coli strain can produce a powerful toxin, verotoxin, and may cause severe illness and death. Victims may develop symptoms that include severe watery diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, fever, abdominal cramps or vomiting. In serious cases it may lead to a complication known as haemolytic uraemic syndrome, which is characterised by acute kidney failure. If not properly treated, the condition may cause death.

High risk food

High-risk food includes undercooked and contaminated foods, such as minced beef, hamburgers, roasted beef, raw milk, cheese, vegetables, fruit juice, yoghurt, etc. Bagged fresh spinach could also be contaminated by E. coli O157:H7. Consumption of undercooked and contaminated bagged spinach contaminated with the pathogens may pose a high risk of illness. Contaminated water may also act as a vehicle of infection.

Advice to trade

  • Members of the trade should ensure that they obtain vegetables for raw consumption from reliable sources and that the vegetables are fit for human consumption.
  • According to the latest information from the US FDA, fresh spinach products with the date code (best use by date) of 2 October 2006 or later are allowed to be sold in the US. This includes brands that were involved in the recall.

Advice to food premises operators

  • Food handlers in food premises are advised to thoroughly wash all fresh vegetables under tap water to remove dirts on leaf surfaces; and
  • Cook vegetables thoroughly to 75 degrees Celcius or above for at least 2 to 3 minutes can kill E. coli O157:H7 .

Advice to consumers

  • When preparing vegetables, discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage before washing. Immerse fresh vegetables in water and wash thoroughly with running water to remove dirt and surface microorganisms.
  • For people in high risk categories (ie. young children, elderly people, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems), they should avoid eating food containing raw vegetables (e.g. salad, coleslaw, pickled vegetables, etc.).
  • To reduce food safety risk, vegetables should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.

Further information

Please visit the FDA website http://www.fda.gov/opacom/hpwhats.html or the following related web pages for further information:

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2007 copyright logo | Important notices Last Revision Date : 30-12-2006