Can Spinach Make You Sick?

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Unfortunately, spinach turns out to carry some perils, as was revealed by a recent research. As presented at an American Chemical society meeting, some pretty malign bacteria can be found in spinach even if it was pre-washed!

Raw meat sometimes causes you worries that it may be poisonous, but one hardly expects to get, say, E.coli bacteria with stuff like spinach – and yet it is quite possible. The Center for Disease Control gives out that food-caused diseases affect about 50 million Americans yearly and half of these are spread by fresh produce.

When California was struck by an outbreak of E.coli bacteria infection in 2006, causing 205 registered illnesses, three of which were fatal, it was traced to pre-washed spinach. Consequently Professor Sharon Walker of the University of California-Riverside, where she is engaged in studying chemical and environmental engineering, set about doing research on the vegetable.

Using a microscopic approach, Walker examined the surface of the green to calculate how many bacteria cells there are initially and what happens to them if spinach is subjected to bleach-rinse washes of various intensity. In commerce they usually employ a high-strength wash with a concentrated rinse – it is supposed to eliminate all bacteria. What actually happens, as Walker’s examination showed, that due to the unevenness of spinach leaves the bleach rinse fails to provide effective wash on all parts of the surface. Bacteria that get left unwashed in crannies and other inaccessible spots can constitute up to 90% of the initial content.

These bacteria that survive the process of washing keep propagating, infest other greens on their way to supermarkets and can settle on the surfaces of processing equipment.

It is a danger long known to food specialists. There were previous studies proving that lettuces, spinach and practically all leafy greens carry loads of bacteria that survive even high-concentration intensive washing, not to mention home washing and careless rinsing.

Once we get that clear, what do we do about it? Quit buying leafy greens?

It’s too drastic, says the researcher. Mostly we can rely on the industry for keeping our vegetables clean of bacteria and reducing the risk. What you can do at home to ensure the health of our green foods is eat them as quickly as we can after opening the package (not later than four days) and avoid leaving them lying about for long. Put them away into the fridge and set the temperature at 41⁰F or lower.

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