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Health and Family Services Cabinet
DPH Advises Consumers to Avoid Bagged Fresh Spinach

Press Release Date:  Friday, September 15, 2006  
Contact Information:  Gwenda Bond or Beth Crace, (502) 564-6786  

UPDATED third paragraph: Three additional E. coli cases in Kentucky reported

Advisory Linked to E. coli Outbreak in Kentucky, Several States

FRANKFORT, KY (Sept. 15, 2006) - The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) is recommending that consumers avoid the consumption of bagged fresh spinach as a safety measure to avoid possible E. coli infection.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday issued an alert about an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in multiple states that may be associated with the consumption of bagged fresh spinach. DPH has been notified that one of the cases suspected to be part of this outbreak involves a female teenage resident of Paducah. She is currently hospitalized in Tennessee.

Three additional E. coli O157:H7 cases have been reported that fit the pattern of the outbreak. Two of the newly reported cases affect women in their late 50s from Oldham County; one of the women is hospitalized. The other case is in a school-age child from Jefferson County who is currently hospitalized. At this time, state health officials are working with staff at the local health departments in these counties to determine the source of the infections.

Other states that have reported illnesses to date include: Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin.

“E. coli infection is a serious threat to public health. As an added safety measure, we advise that consumers avoid all brands of packaged spinach for the time being,” said William Hacker, M.D., acting undersecretary for health for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and public health commissioner. “Additionally, physicians should report all E. coli cases, if diagnosed, to the local health department.”

E. coli infections are relatively common, generally resulting in diarrhea, sometimes with bloody stools. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop a type of kidney failure known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). High-risk populations such as children, elderly and immune-compromised individuals are often more susceptible to illness. The condition can lead to serious kidney damage and even death.

Prior to the case involving the western Kentucky resident, DPH data shows 12 reported E. coli cases in Kentucky in 2006 and 11 cases in 2005. These cases were not believed to be linked to packaged produce.

To date, 50 cases of E. coli O157:H7 associated with this outbreak have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including eight cases of HUS, and one death.

“Many of the ‘bagged’ processed produce products are pre-washed by the manufacturer and should be safe for consumption without washing, as the marketing labels attest,” said Guy Delius, assistant director for the division of public health protection and safety. “Certainly a prudent step to further safety is to wash again at home. Other produce which is raw and not washed prior to consumer purchase should absolutely be washed thoroughly at home prior to consumption.”

Though bagged spinach is the suspected cause in the recent outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, there are several other possible sources of E. coli. To avoid infection, the CDC recommends that all ground beef and hamburger be thoroughly cooked and not to eat ground beef patties that are still pink in the middle; if served an under-cooked burger, ask for a new bun and plate; in the kitchen, keep raw meat separate from other foods and wash hands, counters and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat; never place cooked ground beef on a plate that held raw patties; wash meat thermometers in between tests of patties that require further cooking; drink only pasteurized milk, juice or cider; and wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially those that will not be cooked.

The CDC also advises that children under 5 years of age, immune-compromised people, and the elderly should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts until safety can be assured. Methods to decontaminate alfalfa seeds and sprouts are being investigated. It is also important to drink municipal water that has been treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants and to avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming.

The FDA is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local agencies to determine the source of the outbreak and scope of the problem.

At this time, the investigation is ongoing. KDPH and FDA will keep consumers informed of the investigation as more information becomes available.

If you believe you have experienced symptoms of illness after consumption of raw bagged spinach please consult your health care provider. If you have a question you may contact your local health department or the Food Safety Branch at (502) 564-7181.



Last Updated 9/15/2006