FDA seeks root of spinach problem

Health authorities hunting the source of a nationwide E. coli outbreak are focusing on nine California farms after discovering what could be a crucial clue: an opened bag of spinach left in the refrigerator of someone sickened by the bacteria.

The bag of tainted Dole baby spinach is the "smoking gun" that has allowed investigators to zero in on three counties in California's greater Salinas Valley, said Dr. Mark Horton, the state public health officer. Authorities also were checking processing plants, Horton said.

Officials said consumers still shouldn't eat bagged spinach, even as they closed in on the source of the bacteria as likely somewhere in Monterey, San Benito or Santa Clara counties, informs CBS News.

A Food and Drug Administration official said the bar code on the bag helped investigators trace the contaminated spinach back to one of nine farms in three California counties in the Salinas Valley — Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara — raising hopes that spinach from other areas can soon be sold.

"We have established that all of the spinach that was implicated so far was grown in that area," said David Acheson, chief medical officer at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The FDA reiterated that it is still not safe to eat fresh spinach of any kind. While cooking can kill E. coli, making the spinach safe to eat, the FDA advised against cooking fresh spinach just yet. The agency fears that a cook could get sick from handling contaminated spinach and that the bacteria could spread to other parts of a kitchen, reports USA Today.

According to Brocktown News, like fine wine and cheese, spinach could be labeled with a place of origin to reassure shoppers jittery about an E. coli E. coli outbreak linked to leafy greens grown in California.

"Clearly, we do not want to deny consumers access to spinach," said Dr. David Acheson of the Food and Drug Administration ‘s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Wherever it‘s grown, our responsibility is to make sure whatever does end up on the shelf is safe."

As of Thursday, the outbreak had sickened 157 people, killing one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Idaho officials were investigating the death of a 2-year-old on Wednesday, reportedly after eating spinach, the CDC said.

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