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Food Safety Extension Specialist Provides Spinach E. coli Advice

AMES, Iowa -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert about a nationwide outbreak of E. coli traced to packaged spinach//. The alert advises consumers not to eat bagged fresh spinach at this time.

Sam Beattie, a food safety extension specialist and assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, tells consumers that it's almost impossible to ensure that there will not be any pathogenic microorganisms on any raw agricultural product.

"Cut spinach and other packaged greens by their nature cannot be thermally processed to kill pathogens," he said. "Secondly, chemical inactivation of the pathogens is difficult because of the product. Lastly, control over the animals that overfly, graze, slither, crawl, and are otherwise naturally present in a field is impossible. The outbreak in question could have come from something as simple as deer excrement on or near the leaves of a plant. The actual feces may be washed off by rain, irrigation, or other means, but the contamination has occurred."

"We must face the reality that we live in a microbial ocean," Beattie said. "Microorganisms are literally everywhere, including on and inside of us and most of the food that we eat. Fortunately, most do not make us ill, however there are viruses, bacteria, and parasites that will do so. Bacteria are found in the soil in which the food is grown, in the water that it is irrigated with, in the feces and on the hands of those that harvest and handle it, animals that pass through and over the fields leave their waste, pests that eat it or live on it, containers that hold food during transit to processing, almost everywhere through processing."

Beattie urges consumers to remember that processing simply can't eliminate bacteria in fresh foods.

"Bacteria are tough to kill," he said. "During the growing and processing of pre-cut fruits or bagged leafy vegetables, there are several steps t
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