I thought, when I went vegetarian, I would avoid all those particularly nasty bacteria that cause food poisoning. No raw or questionable meat, no germs, no diarrhoea, no food sickness, right? Apparently not. A batch of spinach, imported from the United States, is the alleged culprit in an E. coli infestation. The infestation has spread to at least 19 states. Canadian consumers have been warned away from eating the product. At least one person has died, 14 have been hospitalized and 100 have fallen ill. At 29 reported cases, Wisconsin seems to be the worst hit place so far.
These allegations are not necessarily true, however investigators say that American fresh spinach seems to be the only linking factor between all the infected people. The spinach in question comes from a company called Natural Selection Foods, a California producer. The vegetable gets packaged under several different labels, so the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is telling citizens to completely avoid American-imported fresh spinach, regardless of label.
If you’re thinking of keeping that spinach and just washing it off, think again! The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Centre for Food Safety and Nutrition warns that E. coli bacteria hold tightly to the spinach and therefore washing the leaves will only give you soggy E. coli. So much for the myth that vegetables won’t poison you! E. coli is a bacterium that lives in the intestines of mammals, not the underside of spinach leaves. The contamination of a vegetable must mean that the spinach was grown in unclean conditions or came into contact with a meat product, dairy product or, worse, sewage.
You can see why I am so distraught. Vegetarian meals were supposed to bypass all these disgusting dangers. It makes me shudder to think of spinach or any crop being grown in close proximity to sewage or being stored in unclean conditions next to infected hamburger. I’ve been living in the UK for two years now, and very often I get laughed at for my strict ideologies surrounding food handling. It’s a very North American thing apparently to overset rules for handling food. Sauces and eggs need not go in the fridge; it’s no big deal if dinner stays out all night and then gets reheated for lunch. But it’s a lack of strict rules (albeit actually in America) that has led to this outbreak of E. coli on a naturally bacteria-free product. It’s worth being made fun of to stop that, isn’t it?
So far there are no reported cases of related food poisoning in Canada.
CBC news staff (2006, September 15). Don’t eat fresh spinach imported from U.S. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/story/health/national/2006/09/15/spinach-ecoli.html