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More Cases of Contaminated Spinach Reported Across Country

Over one-hundred people in at least twenty-one states have become sick by eating spinach contaminated with E. coli bacteria according to the Food and Drug Administration, which advised consumers not to eat any fresh spinach until further notice.

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    The E. coli outbreak linked to spinach spread to two more states today, bringing the total number of states with reported cases to 21. One person has died in Wisconsin, and more than 100 have fallen ill nationwide as a result of exposure to the bacteria. A second death, of a 2-year-old in Ohio, is under investigation.

    E. coli can cause cramps, bloody diarrhea, and in some cases damaged kidneys. More than 50 people have been hospitalized, some with kidney failure.

    The Food and Drug Administration says it still hasn't positively confirmed the cause of the outbreak but believes it's related to consumption of fresh-bagged greens that include spinach.

    All the cases so far have been linked to the products of one company, California-based Natural Selection Foods. The company has recalled 34 brands of greens for which it provides freshly washed spinach, including Earthbound Farm and Dole.

    The bacteria can be killed if spinach is cooked properly, but washing alone is not effective. According to the Agriculture Department, Americans consumed over 450 million pounds of fresh spinach in 2000. About three-quarters of that comes from California.

    And for more on the outbreak and the investigation, we're joined by Robert Brackett. He's director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

    And, Mr. Brackett, welcome. Give us an update on the investigation. Where are you in determining and pinpointing how this outbreak came about?

    ROBERT BRACKETT, Food and Drug Administration: Well, we're getting closer. Originally when we observed the outbreak, we noticed that it was just from spinach. But at that time, it looked like it was just consumer salad-sized spinach, bags of spinach. We've now sort of expanded that a little bit more to include all sources of fresh spinach, so this would be the consumer-sized bags, but in addition also perhaps the salad bars and other sort of salad brands that might contain spinach.

    Now, the reason why we expanded this is because, originally, we thought it was just the bags, but during our investigation we found that some of the companies that produced the implicated spinach also produced food service-sized containers, bags of spinach, and also that some food service — that is restaurants and supermarkets — were practicing the technique of using bagged spinach to sort of supplement their salad bars and their bulk bins.

    So we wanted to make sure we cast a wider net so that the public would be protected.