Hundreds of people have become sick after eating spinach products contaminated with E. coli. In recent years, outbreaks have prompted federal regulators to advise consumers nationwide to avoid eating spinach products. Multiple recalls and government investigations have drawn attention to potential contamination of spinach and other leafy, green vegetables.
Today, most spinach sold in the U.S. is safe for consumers. However, awareness of the potential for E. coli illness can help you avoid serious illness. This article provides an overview of E. coli and its role in recent spinach recalls.
Sources of E. Coli Illness
E. coli is a type of bacteria normally found in the intestines of humans and animals. While most forms of E. coli are relatively harmless, problems can arise when more dangerous strains of the bacteria contaminate food supplies. E. coli O157: H7 is a particularly nasty strain that can produce Shiga toxin. Its presence in contaminated spinach is generally the reason for health warnings and recalls.
The leading sources of E. coli illness in the United States are ground beef and raw, leafy vegetables. Ground beef can become contaminated when cow intestines are mixed into the beef during slaughter and packaging. Vegetables can become contaminated in many different ways. Animal feces can contaminate fertilizer and water supplies used to irrigate crops. Poor hygiene during picking and packaging and poor refrigeration practices can also cause E. coli to grow in food products. In recent years, there have been E. coli outbreaks caused by contaminated spinach, sprouts, hazelnuts, lettuce, and cookie dough.
Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
E. coli illness features many of the same symptoms associated with other foodborne illnesses. People suffering from E. coli infections typically experience severe diarrhea (including bloody diarrhea), severe abdominal pain, and vomiting. Some people can develop a fever, although this is less common with E. coli than with other forms of foodborne illness.
More significant complications can develop in some instances. A minority of E. coli cases have resulted in kidney failure. Recent outbreaks have also featured a handful of deaths from E. coli illness. Children and older adults may experience more significant illness, including more severe symptoms and a longer recovery period.
A healthy adult with E. coli illness will normally recover within five to ten days. There is no effective treatment for E. coli illness other than letting it pass through your system. Drinking plenty of fluids can help you avoid fatigue and dehydration, and you should avoid taking any anti-diarrheal medication. These measures should help speed the passage of E. coli bacteria through your system.
A nationwide alert concerning packaged spinach containing E. coli went out in September 2006. At least 205 reports of illnesses and three deaths across twenty-five states were confirmed to have been caused by E. coli contaminated spinach. All contaminated spinach was sold under the Dole brand. A final report issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that the contamination came from a single field in San Benito County, California. The spinach was likely contaminated by animal feces getting on crops in the field or into water wells.
A more recent spinach E. coli outbreak occurred in 2012. Thirty-three people became sick and thirteen were hospitalized after eating spinach and spring mix sold by Wegmans. Two people suffered kidney failure. The company recalled packaged spinach and spring mix from stores in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Government investigators later traced the source of the outbreak to State Garden of Chelsea, Massachusetts.
Getting Legal Help
If you or a loved one has experienced any dangerous symptoms or unusual medical conditions that might be related eating tainted spinach, you should first seek immediate medical attention. You may then wish to meet with an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options. Companies that sell dangerous products such as E. coli contaminated spinach may potentially be found liable for any injury related damages suffered by consumers. More information about foodborne illness and E. coli can be found in Findlaw's Dangerous Foods section.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.