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N.C. Inspectors Test Bagged Spinach For E. coli

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State inspectors began randomly testing bagged spinach Wednesday in the wake of a national outbreak of E. coli contamination linked to the vegetable.

E. coli, a potentially fatal bacteria that causes severe diarrhea and stomach cramps, was found in spinach on a California farm two months ago. The contaminated spinach had been packaged into ready-to-eat bags and sent across the country.

Almost 200 people in 26 states were sickened in the outbreak, and three deaths were linked to the contamination.

The outbreak prompted a national recall of bagged spinach. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month lifted the recall and started allowing spinach to return to supermarket shelves.

Although no illnesses were reported in North Carolina, state health officials want to ensure spinach is safe. So, microbiologists with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture have started randomly testing bags of the vegetable.

"With 199 illnesses and three deaths associated with it, we're very concerned, and we want to make doubly sure that that product, if it's coming back into our state, is safe," said Joe Reardon, director of the department's Food and Drug Protection Division. "That's the job of our lab, basically, is to protect public health and to protect the food supply."

Some consumers said additional testing makes them feel safer, but they remain leery about buying bagged spinach.

"I still won't buy it. Stuff like that makes me nervous, so I probably won't buy it," consumer Jaime Lawson said.

Tests on bags of spinach with the Earth Bound Farms label came back negative, and Reardon said his staff will be testing other brands of bagged spinach, including Dole and Ready Pac, in the coming weeks.

State officials said North Carolina has some of the most rigorous testing standards for food, noting that the lab recently found lysteria in a brand of egg salad, leading to an 18-state recall.


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