Markets bring back some bagged spinach

Produce from outside 3 counties in California is judged safe to eat

September 28, 2006|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN REPORTER

Bagged spinach from fields outside California are turning up on Maryland grocery store shelves again as federal officials work to assure consumers that the nationwide E. coli outbreak has been limited to tainted produce from just three California counties.

Landover-based Giant Food began restocking its produce section yesterday with a Giant-brand savoy spinach that customers have seen before, according to company spokesman Jamie Miller.

"The spinach comes from Colorado and Canada," he said, "so we made the decision to put it back on our shelves in response to information received from the Food and Drug Administration stating that spinach produced outside of the three counties they're focusing on is safe for consumers."

Fine print on the bags states where the spinach was grown, Miller said. But Giant is reinforcing that with store signs to reassure wary buyers. "We're also putting the information on our Web site."

Spinach remains unavailable in bulk, or at the stores' salad bars. And bagged salad blends containing spinach are still "temporarily discontinued," the company's Web site said.

Safeway spokesman Greg TenEyck said his company was still "doing our due diligence" to identify and verify a safe source of bagged spinach.

"We expect to have that product on our shelves sometime next week," he said.

Meanwhile, John Hammond, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said one new case of E. coli infection has been reported since Friday, bringing the state's total to 11 since Aug. 1.

DNA fingerprinting to determine whether the new case is related to the nationwide outbreak of the 0157:H7 E. coli strain was pending, he said.

Of the 11 cases now reported in Maryland since the nationwide outbreak began, three have been traced to 0157:H7 from bad spinach. The victims, all children from Harford and Cecil counties, survived.

Six other cases were found to be unrelated to the 0157:H7 outbreak. Two cases - one of them fatal - remain under investigation.

Health authorities said last week that several dozen E. coli infections, from a variety of sources, are reported routinely in Maryland each year.

Nationwide, 183 people in 26 states have so far been sickened by the 0157:H7 strain of the E. coli bacterium after consuming bagged spinach from California, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ninety-five people - just over half of those infected - were sick enough to be hospitalized, and one died.

The CDC's Web site continues to advise consumers not to eat "any fresh spinach or salad blends containing spinach grown in the three counties in California implicated in the current E. coli O157:H7 outbreak - Monterey County, San Benito County and Santa Clara County."

"Fresh spinach grown outside these counties can be safely eaten," the CDC says. But sometimes California-grown spinach is packaged in other parts of the country.

"If consumers cannot tell where fresh spinach was grown, they are advised not to purchase or consume the fresh spinach," the statement continued. Frozen and canned spinach can be safely eaten.

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

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