Spinach grown outside California’s Salinas Valley got the all-clear from U.S. health officials, but it could be days before the leafy green returns to store shelves.
An ongoing outbreak of E. coli linked to spinach has sickened 166 people in half the 50 states as of midday Friday. That is up from 157 victims in 23 states a day earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For more than a week, the Food and Drug Administration has recommend people not eat fresh, raw spinach. State and federal investigators since have traced the contaminated spinach back to three California counties, and already farm inspections there are turning up possible problems.
On Friday, officials said spinach grown anywhere outside that area is safe to eat — but the industry needs to figure out how to let consumers know the origin of what they’re buying before the green can return to sale, said Dr. David Acheson of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
“The public can be confident that spinach grown in those non-implicated areas can be consumed and industry is working to get spinach from these areas back on the market,” Acheson told reporters.
“I anticipate it will be fast,” he later said of that process. “Whether it will be three days, four days — I don’t know. That will be an industry determination.”
Of those infected in the outbreak, 88 have been hospitalized, including a Wisconsin woman who died. Two other deaths have been reported in suspected cases — a child in Idaho and an elderly woman in Maryland — but those cases are still being investigated.