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

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that all spinach implicated in the current outbreak has been traced back to Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, Calif. This determination is based on epidemiological and laboratory evidence obtained by multiple states and coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Natural Selection Foods issued a recall of all implicated products on Sept. 15, 2006. Four other companies have issued secondary recalls because they received the recalled product from Natural Selections. Spinach processed by other manufacturers has not been implicated in the outbreak.

The FDA, the state of California, the CDC, and the United States Department of Agriculture continue to investigate the cause of the outbreak. This includes continued inspections and sample collection in facilities, the environment and water, as well as studies of animal management, water use and the environment.

Although the current outbreak may ultimately trace back to a specific field(s), there has been a long history of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks involving leafy greens from the central California region. Spinach processed by other manufacturers has not been implicated in this outbreak, however, based on discussions with industry, and given the past E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks, the FDA and the state of California expect the industry to develop a comprehensive plan which is designed to minimize the risk of another outbreak due to E. coliO157:H7 in spinach grown in central California. While this plan is under development, the FDA and the state of California reiterate our previous concerns and advise firms to review their current operations in light of the agency's guidance for minimizing microbial food safety hazards.

The FDA and the state of California have previously expressed serious concern with the continuing outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with the consumption of fresh and fresh-cut lettuce and other leafy greens. After discussions with industry, the FDA and the state of California, as part of a longer-term strategy, now expect industry to develop a plan to minimize the risk of another outbreak due to E. coli O157:H7 in all leafy greens, including lettuce.

The Grower Shipper Association of Central California, the Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, and the Western Growers Association, issued the following statement, "We are committed to working together as one industry to learn everything we can from this tragedy, and will redouble our efforts to do everything in our power to reduce the potential risk of foodborne illness. As we have in the past, we will work aggressively with the Food and Drug Administration and state regulatory authorities to ensure the industry's growing and processing practices continue to be based on the very best scientific information available, and that we are doing everything possible to provide the nation with safe and healthy produce."

Implementation of these plans will be voluntary, but the FDA and the state of California are not excluding the possibility of regulatory requirements in the future.

The FDA will be holding a public meeting to address the larger issue of foodborne illness linked to leafy greens later in the year once the current investigation is complete.

The FDA is still reminding the public that Natural Selection Foods has recalled all spinach products under multiple brand names with a date code of Oct. 1, 2006 or earlier.

Source: FDA