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E. coli

FDA scares nation away from spinach while ignoring far greater dangers of processed foods

Thursday, September 21, 2006 by: NewsTarget
Tags: E. coli, spinach, the FDA


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(NewsTarget) Over the last week, an E. coli outbreak -- thought to be spread by contaminated fresh spinach -- has caused 131 people to fall ill, 20 cases of kidney failure, and at least one death.

At least some of the cases were traced to Earthbound Natural Selection brand spinach, prompting state and federal investigators to descend on nine California farms that supply spinach to the label, although only one case of infection has been reported in California so far.

Officials said special attention would be paid to the farms' irrigation techniques -- since the water supply is a common entry point for contamination -- but reported that they would check all sanitary conditions, including bathroom and washing areas, fertilization techniques, and equipment cleaning procedures.

"In the past, we have found a number of issues that may have been contributory," said Kevin Reilly, deputy director of prevention services for the California Department of Health Services, suggesting possible points of contamination. "All those may have been possible risk factors, but none of them have the definitive link in most outbreaks."

Although E. coli doesn't normally affect humans, according to health officials this particular strain -- O157:H7 -- can be deadly. It can cause illness in an average person through as few as 10 cells, an amount that can be impossible to track, says Reilly.

Eighty percent of the people with cases of E. coli reported eating fresh spinach, but the investigators have been unable to find any traces of the bacteria on spinach or produce bags that the consumers have turned in. FDA officials said they are hopeful that enough people know about the outbreak to have avoided contact with spinach. However, they expect more cases to be reported over the next two to three weeks.

"If you handle it in the kitchen and it's contaminated, you'll cross-contaminate the kitchen with it," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer with the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "You'll get it on your hands, on the counters, in the sink. That's just not a good idea. The recommendation is don't mess with it -- throw it away."

While noting the strain of E. coli is dangerous, consumer advocate Mike Adams says the real story is that the FDA is using fear tactics to scare people away from healthy spinach while ignoring the millions of people harmed by food ingredients such as hydrogenated oils (trans fats), high fructose corn syrup, MSG, sodium nitrite, and a host of other chemicals.

"There's a clear double standard here in warning the public about dangerous foods," Adams said. "The FDA only seems interested in warning the public about the dangers of fresh produce, but never the dangers of processed foods containing harmful chemical additives."

Adams said the reason that processed foods almost never harbor bacterial contaminations such as E. coli is because they're all "dead foods," or processed, synthesized foods that have none of the nutrients or healthy ingredients found in living foods such as fruit and vegetables.

"This spinach scare has been blown completely out of proportion by the FDA, an agency that likes to imagine it is protecting public health, but in reality is highly selective about the things it chooses to warn the public about," Adams added. "Toxic chemicals in foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals are completely ignored, even though they harm millions and kill tens of thousands each year."

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