28 sick; multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to organic spinach and spring mix blend

CDC has now weighed in on the E. coli O157 outbreak linked to Wegman’s in New York that has sickened at least 28.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports 28 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (STEC O157:H7) have been reported from five states, with most cases in New York.

42% of ill persons have been hospitalized. Two ill persons have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure, and no deaths have been reported.

The outbreak was initially in New York. More recently, more ill persons in other states have been reported, and the investigation has expanded.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that Wegmans brand Organic Spinach and Spring Mix blend produced by State Garden of Chelsea, Massachusetts, is one likely source of this outbreak.

Four leftover packages of Wegmans brand Organic Spinach and Spring Mix blend collected from four ill persons’ homes yielded the outbreak strain of STEC O157:H7.

On November 2, 2012, Wegmans recalled 5-ounce and 11-ounce packages of Organic Spinach and Spring Mix blendproduced by State Garden, because they may be contaminated with STEC O157:H7. The products were withdrawn from the market, and shoppers were notified.

CDC recommends that consumers do not eat recalled Wegmans brand Organic Spinach and Spring Mix blend and that they dispose of any remaining product in the home or return the product to a Wegmans store location.

Other brands of pre-packaged leafy greens have been reported by ill persons outside of New York. Investigations are ongoing to determine if other contaminated leafy greens are also a source of illness in this outbreak.

This PFGE pattern has very rarely been seen before in PulseNet. It has been seen only 7 times prior to this outbreak. Illnesses that occurred after October 30, 2012 might not be reported yet due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported.

Questions remain: why did Wegman’s issue a voluntary recall on Nov. 2, 2012, but CDC didn’t announce anything until Nov. 17, 2012 (and didn’t post it until today); was the spinach and spring mix actually produced in Massachusetts or just packaged there by State Garden and originated somewhere else; will State Garden now admit its product has been linked to illnesses after initially stating, “no illnesses have been confirmed as related to State Garden products.”

Epidemiology used to matter.

A table of leafy green related outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/leafy-greens-related-outbreaks.

16 sick with E. coli O157 linked to Wegmans spinach in NY

Government and industry say all the right food safety things, but in reality they’re more often like Australia – stuck in 1978.

Al Gore long ago invented the Intertubes, which even reach down under, sometimes, smartphones are ubiquitous, and every aspect of American society is continuing a centuries-long messy and muddled transition to transparency and openness, pushed more recently by Twitter and Facebook.

So why do government and the produce industry dabble in 1978-era communications, and are consistently outted by others?

I understand the New York State health department is overwhelmed at the moment, what with hurricanes and such, but with a report that 16 people are sick with E. coli O157:H7 they may want to issue a statement.

After retailer Wegmans recalled its Organic Spinach and Spring Mix because it “may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria,” on Nov. 1, 2012, the usual questions were raised. The state dept. of health told Food Safety News that yup, at least 16 people were sick with E. coli O157:H7 linked to the Wegmans spinach.

The producer, State Garden in Massachusetts, said Friday night illnesses are being investigated, but no illnesses have been confirmed as related to State Garden products.

Epidemiology used to matter.

But after the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to California spinach, the 29th outbreak linked to leafy greens and after years of warning from FDA, California growers formed the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which is supposed to have food safety performance standards. Yet the most noticeable achievement since the Agreement has been the containment cone of silence that has descended upon outbreaks involving leafy greens, and an apparent shift in policy that sets epidemiology aside and requires positive samples.

One solution to this on-going public angst is to clearly define when to go public and why;  not everyone has to agree, but at least but the basics would be out there. Bureaucrats are loath to write things down because then they have to actually do what they said they would do (sometimes).

A table of leafy green related outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/leafy-greens-related-outbreaks.