Editor’s Note:  This is the seventh installment in a ten-part series on meaningful foodborne illness outbreaks.

When the company that invented putting fresh produce in a bag ended up putting both spinach and E. coli O157:H7 in the same bag, the reaction of consumers was something like “Is nothing safe!”     San Juan Bautista, CA-based Earthbound Farm was first to offer pre-washed bagged salads to consumers back in 1986.  It is the parent company of Natural Selection Foods Inc., which produced the Dole Baby Spinach that sickened 205 in this 2006 E. coli outbreak.  Read all about it:

spinach.jpgOn September 14, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that a nationwide E. coli outbreak had been associated with the consumption of bagged baby spinach. For fear of E. coli contamination, all bagged spinach was recalled nationwide, and on September 19, 2006, FDA announced that all spinach implicated in the outbreak had been traced back to Natural Selection Foods, a company located in California’s Salinas Valley.

FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 205 E. coli illnesses associated with the spinach E. coli outbreak, including thirty-one cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, 104 hospitalizations, and four deaths. Victims of the E. coli outbreak were identified 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. Wisconsin was the state hardest-hit in the outbreak, with 49 confirmed cases of E. coli. Canada reported one confirmed case.

A joint trace back by FDA and the State of California revealed that four spinach fields were the possible source of the E. coli contamination. The outbreak strain of E. coli was isolated from cattle fields nearby the implicated spinach fields, as well as from a wild boar that was killed in one of the fields.

On March 23, 2007, The California Department of Health Services and the United States Food and Drug Administration released its reports, “Investigation of an Escherichia coli 0157:H7 Outbreak Associated with Dole Pre-Packaged Spinach” and Recommendations in follow up to the investigation of an Escherichia coli 0157:H7 Outbreak Associated with Dole Pre-Packaged Spinach.”

The report and recommendations follow the 2006 E. coli outbreak that was traced to pre-packaged Dole spinach that was produced in California’s Salinas Valley and sold nationwide.