FOOD BORNE ILLNESS 1 The Spinach Scare: A Bacterium Found in the Meat Industry Finds its Way into the Produce Market Jennifer Kitchen May 15, 2011 HW220-01
FOOD BORNE ILLNESS 2 On September 14th, 2006, the Center for Disease control and Prevention (CDC) sent out ahealth alert that stated, between August 25th and September 3rd, eight states had encountered 50cases of E. coli 0157:H7 infection and preliminary investigation had indicated that prepackagedspinach was most likely the culprit. Among the 50 cases, andeightpatients developed hemolyticuremic syndrome;this can cause anemia, kidney failure, internal bleeding, and damages internalorgans. One patient had died (CDC, 2006). Many people in America were shocked. Producewith E. coli was not something that was common. By October 12, 199 persons had beeninfected in 26 states(CDC, 2006). Almost two months after the first case almost all of thecontaminated spinach was off the market shelves. The investigation had provided theinformation needed to track the spinach back to its producer. The U.S. Food and DrugAdministration(FDA) released a report, in March of 2007, stating that the spinach outbreak“was associated with contaminated Dole brand Baby Spinach and resulted in 205 confirmedillnesses and three deaths”. In a short amount of time spinach had made people across Americasick. Three women died because a plant food was contaminated with a bacterium which is mostcommonly are found in contaminated meat. What is E. coli? Could the outbreak have beenprevented? What has changed in the food industry as a result of the spinach outbreak? The human body has bacterium, that we coexist with, which helps maintain homeostasis.Escherichia coli 0157:H7 is a mutated form of a bacterium which is found in abundance in thedigestive system to help humans digest foods, synthesize vitamins, and defend againstdangerous organisms (Schlosser, 2005). The E. coli, in the digestive system, assists the body bybreaking down foods and keeping the body running smoothly. E. coli 0157:H7 is a fairly newmutation, is found in animal feces, and does not help the body, instead it can ravage it. Not allpeople become ill when infected with E. coli 0157:H7, while others may suffer from mild
FOOD BORNE ILLNESS 3diarrhea. Still others may develop severe abdominal pains accompanied by watery then bloodystool (Schlosser, 2005). Children, elderly, and anyone who may have a compromised immuneare more apt to have severe issues when eating contaminated foods. The severity of a case of E.coli 0157:H7 poisoning can also depend on how much of it was eaten and how much verotoxinis released. E. coli 0157:H7 can release a toxin called verotoxin that attacks the lining of thesmall intestine and can cause permanent health issues (Schlosser, 2005).Serious infection by E.coli 0157:H7 can result in impairment of the kidneys and even death (Schlenker & Roth,2011).The human body is a natural “fighter” but sometimes toxins in the body can overwhelmthe systems. E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks,more often associated with contaminated meat, in recent yearshas been found in produce.The spinach contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 was sold in grocerymarkets across the U.S. and was bought by many people who would have never thought producewould hold such a potential for harm. Before the spinach outbreak many people still felt safefrom being infected E. coli 0157:H7. Many believed, if they stayed away from beef products,the most common food source of infection, they would be safe. Robert Kenner calls the spinachoutbreak “a wake-up call… We suddenly realized we were all vulnerable” (2009). Many peoplenever think about where the food at the store comes from. Many people do not worry about itbecause food sold in America is supposed to be safe. That is why we have the FDA, to ensurethat food is good and will not cause us illness. Americans know that the FDA and USDAregulate food safety and standards. There are inspectors that are there to ensure the places werefood is grown, manufactured, packaged, and stored are clean and sanitary. These governmentdepartments “keep watch” over the food industry,so that Americans do not have to worry aboutsuffering a foodborne illness.
FOOD BORNE ILLNESS 4 Schlenker and Roth remind people that everyone in the business of food, from the growerto the marketer to the preparer, are responsible for food safety (2011). Contamination can becaused from elements that our food came into contact with; while growing, while beingprepared for the market, and even in our own kitchens. Consumers should read labels to findout how fresh the foods are and must take care to ensure food is properly prepared and stored.E. coli 0157:H7 can be destroyed by heat and often outbreaks are caused by undercooked foodsor foods that did not go through pasteurization(Schlenker & Roth, 2011).The consumer mayknow the store they shop in is clean, but what is wrapped up with the purchased food can beunseen. Consumers do not see the people who prepare our foods for market unless they workfor the company they buy from. This means that, as a consumer, one must trust foods to be safeor they can do their part in following proper handling, cooking, and storage recommendationsbecause no measures of safety can ensure that our food is 100% safe. So, how did the spinach become tainted anyway? Maybe the manure that was used onthe crop was the culprit, but it could have been the water used for irrigation. When the manureused to fertilize crops is not composted first or the water used to irrigate and clean cropscontains animal feces vegetables can be contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 (Food & WaterWatch, 2009, p.22).This bacterium is found in the feces of animals. Manure that has beencomposted has been “baked”, which means that as the organic materials in the compost breakdown energy is released and the composting pile warms up, killing many organisms whilehelping others strive.If manure has not been composted pathogens may thrive and once on theproduce, E. coli 0157:H7 stays with the produce as gets picked, washed, and moves on down theline. The line is then tainted and other produce that comes down the conveyer is contaminated.Hundreds of bags of spinach can be bagged in a matter of minutes and ready to ship out. This
FOOD BORNE ILLNESS 5made it easy for the “bad “spinach to make it to groceries all over the country in a matter ofdays. The contaminated spinach led to a nationwide recall and illness was encountered acrossthe states from the produce which was farmed in one region of California (Food & WaterWatch, 2009, p.41). E. coli 0157:H7 contaminated spinach, from one small area of the U.S.,was let out onto the market and made more than 200 people ill in a matter of a couple months.Spinach, a food that is recommended in our diets as a good source for vitamins and minerals,made people sick. Americans did not understand how this could happen, for our food industryhas “quality control” and foods are taken off the line on a routine basis to ensure quality.Somehow, the spinach had become contaminated with a bacterium that was not commonlyfound on produce, but in meats, and it had made it through the quality check. Quality checks onfruits and vegetables would not need to include looking for bacterium that would not be foundon produce. This made it easy to overlook. While quality control looked for quality issues thatmay occur with spinach they completely missed something that made hundreds sick.Center for Disease Control and prevention, (2006). Multiple States Investigating a Large Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections. Retrieved from http://emergency.cdc.gov/HAN/han00249.asp
FOOD BORNE ILLNESS 6Center for Disease Control and prevention, (2006). Questions and Answers about E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak from Fresh Spinach. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2006/september/qa.htmU.S. Food and Drug Administration (2007). FDA Finalizes Report on 2006 Spinach Outbreak. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2007/ucm108873.ht mFood & Water Watch, (2009). Food, Inc.: another take;food sovereignty for U.S. consumers (p.41-43).New York; Public Affairs.Food & Water Watch, (2009). Food, Inc.: another take; food safety consequences of factory farms (p 22). New York; public Affairs.Kenner, R., (2009). Food, Inc.: exploring the corporate powers behind the way we eat; the making of food, inc. (p. 30). New York; Public Affairs.Schlenker, E. and Roth, S., (2011). Williams’ Essentials of Nutrition and Diet Therapy. Missouri; Elsevier Mosby.Schlosser, E., (2005).Fast Food Nation: the dark side of the all-American meal (p.193 & 199). New York; Harper Perennial.http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/foodborne-illness-outbreaks/spinach-recall-among- huffington-posts-worst-product-recalls-of-all-time/