UNITED STATES: FDA traces the contaminated spinach, which sickened nearly 200 people, to a beef cattle ranch in California.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alerted consumers about fresh spinach that may have been contaminated with E. coli.  The FDA later determined that the contaminating bacteria was E. coli O154:H7 – the same deadly strain that often contaminates ground beef.

To date, 199 people in 26 states became ill after eating the fresh spinach – 103 required hospitalization and three people died.

The FDA eventually traced the contaminated spinach to farms in California.

Last week, the FDA concluded that the water the farms used to irrigate the spinach was contaminated with E. coli.  The FDA traced the source of the E. coli to a neighboring beef cattle ranch.

A FDA news release said: “Test results from the field investigation of the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in spinach are positive for E. coli O157:H7.  Samples of cattle feces on one of the implicated ranches tested positive based on matching genetic fingerprints for the same strain of E. coli that sickened 199 people.  The trace back investigation has narrowed to four implicated fields on four ranches.  The outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 from cattle feces was identified on one of these four ranches.  At this time, testing of other environmental samples from all four ranches that supplied the implicated lot of contaminated spinach are in progress.  The positive test result is a significant finding, but is just one aspect of this investigation.  More information may come forward as the investigation continues.”

The four fields suspected of producing the contaminated spinach are not currently being used to grow any fresh produce.

“While the focus of this outbreak has narrowed to these four fields, the history of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to leafy greens indicates an ongoing problem,” the FDA news release stated.

There have been previous cases of E. coli O157:H7 contamination of leafy green vegetables from farms in central California.  FDA and the state of California have encouraged the fresh vegetable industry to develop a comprehensive plan designed to minimize the risk of another outbreak due to E. coli O157:H7 in vegetables grown in central California.  While this plan is under development, FDA and the state of California reiterated previous concerns and advised firms to review their current operations in light of the Agency's assistance and recommendations for minimizing microbial food-safety hazards.

Web posted: October 16, 2006

Then on October 26, 2006 Forbes Magazine reported this:

Wild Boar May Have Caused Tainted Spinach Outbreak

10.26.06, 12:00 AM ET

THURSDAY, Oct. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Health authorities are investigating whether wild boar may have played a role in the E. coli outbreak in September that sickened 204 people in 26 states and one Canadian province, and left three people dead.

In addition, they announced at a Thursday night press conference, nine samples of the bacteria found on one ranch in California's Salinas Valley match both the contaminated fresh spinach and the human "isolates" from the outbreak.

"Clearly, we have positive results on one property that are helping to refine our investigation," Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the prevention services division for the California Department of Health Services, said. "We have not closed any possibilities on three other [nearby] ranches, but the information is accumulating that our environmental findings are consistent on this one property."

The E. coli samples were found in a water sample in a creek, in the gastrointestinal tract of a wild boar on the property, and from cattle fecal specimens. None of the nine positive matches came from a nearby spinach field that was the source of the contaminated produce, Reilly said.

That leaves one significant unanswered question: How did the E. coli get from the ranch to the spinach field?

The answer may be the wild boars.

"Animals, wildlife and water were in close proximity to the field," Reilly said. "We have evidence for fences torn down, wildlife going into the actual spinach fields themselves. That's where the investigation is centered right now. There's clear evidence that the pig population has access and goes onto the fields. Is that the ultimate means of contamination or is that one potential means, including water and wildlife? We're still investigating that."

Meanwhile, officials are continuing investigations into three other ranches in the Salinas Valley. Several E. coli samples were found there, but none matched the outbreak strain when put through more advanced genetic testing.

"It is not unusual or unexpected that we would find E. coli associated with domestic cattle and/or wildlife but, to date, we have not matched it up with the outbreak strain other than on the single ranch," Reilly said.

The ranch, which authorities did not identify, included a beef cattle operation and fields where spinach and other ready-to-eat produce were grown. The proximity of fresh produce fields to farm animals has long been a concern to agricultural and health authorities.

"We're definitely concerned about the spread of organisms in fields, and that's why we're working with [the agriculture] industry to encourage them to come up with practices to prevent this kind of contamination," said Jack Guzewich, director of the emergency coordination and response staff at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Health officials initially narrowed the source of the E. coli outbreak to one processor, Natural Selection Foods, in San Juan Bautista, Calif.

On Sept. 15, Natural Selection Foods, which processes fresh spinach for more than two dozen brands, recalled all of its spinach products with use-by dates of Aug. 17 to Oct. 1. Four other distributors, all of whom got spinach from Natural Selection, also recalled their products.

Earlier this month, the FDA said consumers could resume eating fresh spinach.

And at the Thursday night press conference, health officials again said that fresh spinach was safe to eat

For the latest E. coli updates, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Now for Ted Slanker's Commentary . . .

The Truth of the Matter

It has been known for many years now that when ruminants, such as cattle, are fed grain that practice lowers the pH of the ruminant's stomach and intestinal tract.

Some form of E. coli bacteria is always in the digestive tract of ruminants.  When the ruminants eat green leafy vegetative plants only, their normal food, most of the E. Coil bacteria that develops under those conditions can only live in a neutral pH environment.

Man's stomach is acidic.  Therefore, in most instances, the E. coli from grass-fed ruminants will be killed in our stomachs.  But when cattle are fed grain, a different form of acid resistant bacteria develops.  It is the deadly E. coli O154:H7 bacteria.

In this case the rancher next to the spinach fields was probably feeding grain to his cattle.  The rain runoff from those cattle could have been loaded with the deadly E. coli O154:H7 bacteria.

Consequently, the contamination and deaths could have been caused by man feeding grain to ruminants.  The problems may not have happened if the cattle had been left to their own devices where they would have dined on grasses, forbs, and leaves of trees.

By the way, the deadly E. coli O154:H7 bacteria is "organic" (a natural bacteria) and many of the spinach brands involved in the recall were organic."  Organic means nothing in terms of nutrition and food safety.

Ted Slanker