Friday, September 22, 2006

e-Coli in Spinach -- the work of Terrorists, or an organic food disaster?

Posted on Yahoo answers, #11 answer to the question of whether the spinach e-coli infections could have been cause by terrorists. Probably the most complete answer I've seen to date:

Nope, not this time. Bioterrorism is a possibility and we should all be vigilant, but the contamination of spinach with pathogenic E. coli was not the work of terrorists. It was basically because people want "organic" raw food.

The rationale for buying organic food is that it is produced without chemical fertilizers. So that means that it is fertilized with manure. Cows, pigs, deer, sheep, horses and chickens may be infected with E. coli O157:H7 and not become ill. The manure may be used to fertilize food that is organically grown. Currently 1 woman died and 109 people have been hospitalized with hemolytic ureic syndrome (HUS) from eating organically grown spinach infected with E. coli O157:H7. E. coli O157:H7 has formerly been found on all types of produce including strawberries, lettuce and bean sprouts. Unpasturized fruit juices were the source of a large E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 1996.

I personally do not buy organically grown food. If you feel that buying it will protect you from chemical fertilizers, then make sure that you thoroughly scrub, wash and rinse the fruits and vegetables. To be safe you should cook them as well. The bacteria can live not only on the leaves but also inside the leaves, stems and fruit so washing the outside is not sufficient.

The problem with bagged "pre-washed" packaged spinach and salads is that people tend to eat it right out of the bag without washing it again. That is not healthy. Raw food should be thoroughly washed, not just rinsed. Cooking does kill most pathogens.

For some people, especially young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, foodborne illness can be very dangerous.

Foodborne illnesses are more common that most people think. Use a brush to scrub produce with firm or rough surfaces, such as oranges, cantaloupes, potatoes and carrots. You should always soak raw fruits and vegetables in chlorinated tap water for a few minutes and rub them to get them clean. Then rinse them under running tap water before you prepare and eat them . Any bacteria left-over will be killed by cooking.

At this time, Natural Selection Foods, LLC, of San Juan Bautista, California, is recalling all of its products that contain spinach in all the brands they pack with “Best if Used by Dates” of August 17, 2006 through October 1, 2006. The products were distributed to about 20 states and Mexico.

Natural Selection Foods, LLC brands include: Natural Selection Foods, Pride of San Juan, Earthbound Farm, Bellissima, Dole, Rave Spinach, Emeril, Sysco, O Organic, Fresh Point, River Ranch, Superior, Nature’s Basket, Pro-Mark, Compliments, Trader Joe’s, Ready Pac, Jansal Valley, Cheney Brothers, Coastline, D’Arrigo Brothers, Green Harvest, Mann, Mills Family Farm, Pro*Act, Premium Fresh, Snoboy, The Farmer’s Market, Tanimura & Antle, President’s Choice, Cross Valley, and Riverside Farms. These products include spinach and any salad with spinach in a blend, both retail and food service products. Products that do not contain spinach are not part of this recall.

Another company, River Ranch, of California, is currently recalling its spring mix containing spinach. River Ranch obtained bulk spring mix containing spinach from Natural Selections. The following brands are involved: Farmers Market, Hy Vee, Fresh and Easy.

In the past, contaminated seeds, irrigation water, runoff from feed lots and flooding have contributed to E. coli outbreaks traced to alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, spinach, parsley, and other fresh produce. E. coli O157:H7 is also found in meat. Meat must be horoughly cooked.

It takes about 2 to 8 days for a person to show signs of infection which include:

  • bloody diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • severe abdominal cramps
  • fever

Healthy adults infected with E. coli O157:H7 may recover within 5 to 10 days without treatment. The higher risk is for those with a compromised immune system, children and older adults. A serious complication is called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). It leads to destruction of the red blood cells and kidney failure. About 2%-7% of infections lead to this complication. Even with the patient receiving intensive care, the death rate from hemolytic uremic syndrome can be about 3%-5%.

The very infectious E. coli -- type O157:H7 may also be antibiotic resistant. During the current epidemic of E.coli O157:H7 found in spinach an 85-year-old woman died in Wisconsin and 109 people have been hospitalized.

The CDC estimates that about 73,000 cases of E.coli related illness occur each year. And 76 million cases of other foodborne illness. As a direct result of pathogenic E. coli infections and its complications, every year 2,100 Americans are hospitalized, and 61 people die. A recent study estimated the annual cost of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses to be $405 million (in 2003 dollars). Those costs that contributed to this estimate included $370 million for premature deaths, $30 million for medical care, and $5 million for lost productivity.

The virulence of E. coli O157:H7 is a result of its ability to produce Shiga-like toxins, or verotoxins. Shiga-like toxins inhibit protein synthesis in eukaryotic cells and play a role in hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome by causing damage to ndothelial cells in the kidneys, pancreas, brain, and other organs, thus inhibiting those organs’ ability to function.

The primary mode of transmission of E. coli at agricultural fairs, petting zoos, and farm visits was previously thought to be fecal-oral – that is, by ingestion of bacteria-laden feces via contaminated food or water, or transfer by hand to mouth following contact with contaminated surfaces or animals. Conclusions reached by investigators in several recent fair-associated outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 suggest that ingestion or perhaps even inhalation of contaminated dust particles may be an additional cause of E. coli infection among fairgoers and visitors to petting zoos.

I reserve the right to withhold judgement... even with this evidence, it's still possible that islamic terrorists infected the water system with e coli bacteria. We'll find out, eventually.

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