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Growers Announce New Food Safety

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In September 2006 many people became sick all around the United States. Doctors were very puzzled. The doctors thought that the people had all gotten stomach flu. Then they discovered it was something worse. The doctors and health officials discovered that all of the people ate fresh spinach around the same time. The spinach that was eaten was not good. It had a bacteria on it or in it called "E. coli".

The E. coli bacteria causes lots of health problems. If a plant is near contaminated water it can become infected with E. coli. There are other ways E. coli can get on or into fruits and vegetables. When someone gets E. coli their symptoms are very similar to the flu. Most healthy adults can recover from it. Some people can get very sick and die from it.

About 166 people in 25 states got sick from the bacteria that was in fresh spinach. Many of them had to go to the hospital because they were so sick. One person did not recover and died.

The Food and Drug Administration investigated the problem. They wanted to make sure that no one was tampering with food and making people sick on purpose. They found that there was probably a problem with the way growers handled the food. They did not think there was any tampering.

People were told not to eat fresh or bagged spinach while the FDA was investigating. Washing the produce will not solve the problem.They told grocery stores to throw the spinach away and not sell it. Many companies who process spinach had to throw what they had away so that no more people would get sick. Frozen and canned spinach were safe. The bacteria can not live if it is frozen or cooked at a very high heat in a can.

It is not known where exactly the outbreak started. Other outbreaks were caused by water that was contaminated by cow waste and other things. The state of California is trying to figure out where the problem started. Knowing where the spinach came from helps investigators figure out how it became contaminated.

The Food and Drug Administration said that it warned California farmers to do more to make sure their spinach and lettuce was safe to eat. Since 1995 there have been 20 cases of spinach or lettuce contaminated with E. coli.

Food growers in California and other states wanted to prevent this from happening again. They put together new guidelines for produce growers. The guidelines are like rules that produce growers should follow when planting, picking, and packaging food. The plan is designed to protect food from E. coli so that people do not get sick again.

(This was adapted from an original story provided by News10 KXTV Sacramento.)

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