Friday, December 21, 2007

Baby Spinach Strikes Again

The problem of bacterial contamination in spinach and lettuce isn't restricted to the United States., a weekly summary of disease outbreaks in Europe, reported this morning on a multi-national Salmonella outbreak.

The outbreak appears to have begun last July in Sweden, where 177 cases of Salmonella Java infection have been confirmed. Many of the victims (more than 40% of the first 116 cases) required hospitalization. Traceback of consumer information led Swedish authorities to conclude that baby spinach imported from Italy was the source of the Salmonella. The baby spinach had been sold both as a single green and in a package of mixed greens.

Unfortunately, the Swedish investigators were unable to detect Salmonella in any of the suspect baby spinach. Nevertheless, Sweden issued an alert through the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) on August 24th.

Since then, the identical strain of Salmonella has been responsible for 50 illnesses in other European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway and the UK. Epidemiological investigations in the UK determined that many of the victims in that country had eaten mixed greens salads. While no other food has been identified as a probable source of the outbreak, no one has yet been able to confirm by lab tests that the baby spinach was the culprit.

The EU has assessed this outbreak as a "...continuous and sustained risk to human health..." and is encouraging national health agencies to be on the alert. There will surely be more cases, so if you live in - or are planning to travel to - one of the affected countries, please avoid the spinach and the mixed green salads.

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