Federal investigators reported the discovery of a strain of E. coli bacteria in a bag of spinach in New Mexico Wednesday. The bag of Dole baby spinach provided the first direct link between the recent E. coli outbreak and spinach, and information on the bag points to three California counties for the source of the bacteria.
Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties in Salinas Valley, which produce more than half of all U.S. spinach, now become the center of the search for a source farm. Food and Drug Administration officials say they hope to be able to start returning spinach grown outside of Salinas Valley to the market within a few days.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 157 individuals had been infected with the O157:H7 strain of E. coli. This strain is particularly dangerous, as it can cause life-threatening kidney complications. CDC has linked one death in Wisconsin to the current outbreak, and health officials are investigating an Idaho boy's recent death of E. coli-like symptoms after he reportedly ate fresh spinach.
Lawmakers in unaffected areas such as New Jersey, the nation's fourth-largest producer of spinach, pushed for the federal government to clear their spinach for public consumption. Produce Marketing Association president Bryan Silbermann estimates that the FDA's nationwide warning costs farmers and packing companies between $50 million and $100 million every day.