E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with lettuce or spinach, specifically "pre-washed" and "ready-to-eat" varieties, are by no means a new phenomenon.
In October 2003, thirteen residents of a California retirement home were sickened, and two people died, after eating E. coli-contaminated, pre-washed spinach; in September 2003, nearly forty patrons of a California restaurant chain fell ill after eating salads prepared with bagged, pre-washed lettuce. In July 2002, over fifty young women fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 at a dance camp after eating “pre-washed” lettuce, leaving several hospitalized and one with life-long kidney damage.
Twenty or more E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks since 1995 have spinach or lettuce was the source. Several more outbreaks linked to contaminated leafy-produce, including most recently the September 2005 Dole packaged lettuce outbreak.
Once the investigation was completed, a final report on the outbreak was prepared by the California Food Emergency Response Team (CalFERT), a team comprised of members from the FDA and the California Department of Health Services. The Final Report is replete with facts damning of all those involved in the growing, harvesting, processing, distribution, and sale of the implicated spinach products.
The Final Report also faulted with NSF’s procedures for monitoring the quality of processing-water, its record-keeping, and its inability to demonstrate that harvesting bins were being washed to prevent cross-contamination.