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FDA, Leafy Green Industry, it is time to get your shit together


Yet another E. coli outbreak linked to leafy greens is burning through at least four states – Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Hundreds are sick and those numbers will rise.

It is 2022 and 16 years since the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak that was supposed to be the wake-up call. Yet, nothing has really changed. Here is a bit of history. This is one case out of 205 as told by CNN.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A face behind the spinach scare

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Over the past several months, we have been working on a one-hour special about food safety. I have to say, it has been one of the most eye-opening stories on which I have worked. As a rule, when we go to the grocery story, we have a simple expectation. We expect what we purchase will be safe to eat, especially when it comes to healthy foods like spinach. As most everyone knows, that is not always the case. Over the last decade, there have been 22 major outbreaks of E.coli O157:H7 in produce, and the most recent one in spinach last October killed at least three people and made more than 200 very sick.

If you’re like most people, these numbers may not mean a whole lot to you. As a journalist, though, I thought it was important to introduce you to just one of the faces behind those numbers. Ashley Armstrong is from Indiana. Just 2 years old, she was cute, spunky and in constant motion. Always running around the house, sometimes giggling at the top of her lungs, she reminded me of my own daughter. On a fall day, she, her adorable sister and two parents sat down to a healthy dinner, including a spinach salad. Within a week, three members of the family became sick. Soon, it became clear that Ashley had been hit the hardest. For a long time, her parents thought the illness would just pass. It didn’t and Ashley was soon diagnosed with kidney failure and brain swelling. Doctors were trying everything possible to save their life. It took a while, but they figured out that she had been infected with E.coli O157:H7 and its deadly toxin was systematically shutting down her body. I remember her father looking at me misty-eyed and saying, “Fathers are supposed to protect their daughters… in this case, there was nothing I could do.” The culprit was a green, leafy piece of spinach.

I took Ashley’s story with me when I was given unfettered access to the chiefs at the FDA. They sat down with me and told me that, for the most part, food is safe in this country. Fair enough, but what about Ashley? Was the food any safer this year as compared to last? They really couldn’t say for sure and beyond that, they told me something even more alarming: They weren’t even sure exactly how to make the produce any safer. One FDA chief just called it bad luck.

What do you think? Do you believe it is just bad luck and that we should accept a few deaths and illnesses every year from our food? Or, do we as a society say this is important– I don’t ever want to worry about the safety of my food and we should do whatever it takes to see to that?

For the rest of Ashley’s story and an exclusive look at food safety from farm to fork, watch “Danger: Poisoned Food” this Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET. – Link no longer works.

Here is the story about the Armstrong’s that is likely being repeated in this current outbreak.

On August 26, 2007, the Armstrong family became victims of the 2006 dole baby spinach outbreak when the family had a spinach salad for dinner.  A little over a week later, Isabella (6) and Ashley (3) began to experience severe diarrhea. While Isabella recovered relatively quickly, Ashley became severely dehydrated and was admitted to the hospital. There, her infection developed into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious and potentially fatal complication of E. coli poisoning. Her small body became swollen with the fluids her kidneys couldn’t eliminate, and she was kept on constant dialysis for almost six weeks.

After she was discharged from the hospital, Ashley remained on dialysis until finally, after four months, it was discontinued.  By the end of January, her kidney function, while far from normal, had improved enough for her peritoneal dialysis catheter to finally be removed.

Ashley was one of 205 people affected by an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 resulting from contaminated bags of Dole baby spinach. The spinach was recalled on September 14, 2006. It was eventually traced back to Natural Selection Foods in Salinas Valley, CA.

Ashley’s E. coli infection and HUS drastically altered her future. She will require multiple kidney transplants, which her body will become increasingly likely to resist, and she will require dialysis multiple times throughout her life.  She is also at a higher risk of weak bones, short stature, high blood pressure, heart attacks and cancer.

Ashley is now surviving due to a kidney transplant.


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