While the most common sources of E. coli O157:H7 contamination are undercooked or mishandled meat products, with raw milk and juice running close behind, there have also been an increasing number of cases in which spinach has been identified as the source of E. coli O157:H7 contamination, and was making people ill.
In November 2012, for example, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) assisted New York state health authorities in recalling bags of organic spinach sold at a chain of supermarkets in upstate New York. The spinach was recalled after a number of people became ill due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination. The victims ranged in age from 6 to 66, and a number of them had to be hospitalized. Back in 2006, a similar outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 tied to contaminated spinach led to at least 275 illnesses and five deaths. When it comes to spinach contamination, the cause of e. coli-related illnesses is often the negligence of food processors and servers.
Among the symptoms of illness cause by E. coli O157:H7 contamination include sudden and severe abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea, with some experiencing nausea, vomiting and a mild fever. While most victims of E. coli O157:H7 contamination suffer no long-term consequences, some may develop serious complications, up to and including kidney disease, which may require long term, or even lifetime, medical care.
How Can Spinach Be Contaminated with E. coli?
In September of 2006, the United States witnessed, firsthand, the effects of a national E. coli outbreak. Escherichia coli O157:H7 (a potentially deadly strain of E. coli bacteria) was found in raw spinach that was sold to consumers throughout the United States. Investigators who were responsible for investigating the outbreak, concluded that the probable origin of the outbreak was a California Angus cattle farm who had leased nearby land to a spinach grower.
As a result of the contamination of the Spinach, 276 consumers reported becoming ill throughout 26 states, and there were 3 reported deaths. 31 of those reporting illnesses suffered from Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which is a life-threatening bacterium that causes severe dehydration and bloody diarrhea. HUS has also been linked to kidney failure. HUS and E. coli are very serious food pathogens, which require immediate medical attention.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the California Department of Health Services (CDHS), in a combined report, concluded that the probable source of the outbreak was the Paicines Ranch in San Benito, CA, a working cattle ranch who had leased land to a spinach grower, Mission Organics, to cultivate spinach.
The CDC, FDA, and CDHS identified 26 E. coli samples in cattle feces and water samples that were “indistinguishable” from those found on the contaminated, recalled spinach. Some of the samples were less than one mile away from the area where the spinach was being grown.
Although investigators were unable to pinpoint exactly how the spinach was contaminated, some speculated that some surface water at the ranch was close in proximity to the irrigation wells used to irrigate the crops. It’s possible that the water used to irrigate the crops was contaminated with cow feces. In addition, the reports also noted the presence of wild pigs at the ranch. As a result of this outbreak, California’s farm industry adopted new “good agricultural practices,” in an effort to prevent future outbreaks.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you suspect that you or someone you know may have contracted an illness due to consumption of contaminated spinach, especially spinach that was recalled for contamination with E. coli O157:H7, you need a lawyer with experience dealing with food poisoning cases. If a subsequent investigation confirms your suspicions, the victims may be entitled to adequate compensation for all injuries and harm caused by the tainted spinach.