Harvard Health Letter

Leafy, green, healthful - but contaminated

Leafy, green, healthful — but contaminated

The E. coli outbreak from bagged spinach is a reminder that fruit and vegetables can harbor harmful bacteria.

If you're to count yourself among the nutritionally virtuous, you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and spinach is the standard-bearer for the leafy, green vegetables that are most virtuous of all.

But sometimes it seems that, like good deeds, no act of good nutrition goes unpunished. As we went to press in September 2006, three Americans had died and almost 200 had gotten sick from eating spinach that had been contaminated with the O157:H7 strain of the Escherichia coli bacterium. For several weeks the FDA contradicted the timeless nag "eat your spinach" with an advisory that we should avoid the stuff altogether if it was bagged. This isn't the first time that E. coli–contaminated spinach has made people sick. In a 2003 outbreak in the United States, 16 illnesses were reported and two people died.

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