Outbreak: Bagged Spinach
Product: SpinachInvestigation Start Date: 09/08/2006
Location: Multi-StateEtiology: E. coli (STEC) O157:H7
Earliest known case onset date: 08/25/2006Latest case onset date: 09/13/2006
Confirmed / Presumptive Case Counts: 5 / 0Positive Samples (Food / Environmental / Water): 0 / 0 / 0
Hospitalizations: 98Deaths: 3

This outbreak highlighted Inter-state health department cooperation. Oregon epidemiologists identified that 4 out of 5 cases in Oregon consumed bagged spinach using their homegrown “Shotgun” hypothesis-generating questionnaire. Contact with WI and NM showed cases already underway with spinach showing signs of being the culprit. Contact with Utah allowed them to quickly re-interview on spinach. The rest played out nationally following a conference call with NM, UT, OR, CDC, and FDA. FDA went public later that day.


A multi-state outbreak linked to bagged spinach, Dole and others from Natural Selections, Calif.

On Friday, 8 Sept 2006, ~1800, Janie called to report 3 that we had a match of 3 O157s, including 1 from Cowlitz Co. We had 1 form in hand already (GW), so we contacted Debby Uri at home to get the story on her case and attempted to reach Cowlitz Co on-call people. The Linn Co person had been in Idaho the whole exposure period, and presumably was exposed there. GW worked at a hospital in Oregon, but had no contact with any known O157 cases. The Washington guy had been in Oregon only briefly during during the 10 d before onset. His father visiting from Florida had also been ill but no MD. We agreed to pursue jointly on Monday.

Late Tuesday afternoon (again around 1800) Janie reported 2 additional matches, so Melissa took over the task of shotgunning these people. She called until late Tuesday night, and finished Wed morning. The only surprising finding was 4/5 reporting eating bagged spinach, vs. an estimated background for ANY spinach of 17% (P = 0.0036). [Testing months later showed the non-spinach eater to have a different MLVA type.] She had a mix of brands being reported, although 3/5 said they shopped at Winco. Around noon she left to have lunch with a friend and was going to swing by Winco to get sample bags.

Soon after she left I decided to notify CDC that we had a probable hit on this cluster, and to find out if there were any other clusters around the US. Our lab had been unable to upload the patterns because their CDC “fob” had expired, and we were temporarily cut off from the PulseNet data exchange. I sent Chris Braden the picture of the PFGE, and he quickly responded that it appeared by eye to match cases in WI, NM, and UT that were under investigation. He said that WI suspected some kind of fresh produce—possibly based on their demographic profile alone, at which point I emailed that we suspected bagged spinach specifically. (In the earlier message I had said we had a tentative product, but didn’t say what it was. All these exchanges happened within 15-20 minutes). I followed up the 2nd email with a phone call, and he connected us to WI (Jeff Davis and John Archer at least), who had ~17 cases already and were underway with a c-c study.

At that point they had 8 case interviews only, but all 8 had eaten spinach, which for me certainly iced the cake. After that call ended I contacted Utah and NM (not vv as stated in the MMWR). Utah did not have spinach on the Q they were using, but agreed to quickly re-interview on spinach. NM was already interested in spinach from their interviews, and was already trying to collect leftover spinach from 1 hh. During that phone call I got a voice mail from Marilee Poulson that their cases were all reporting bagged spinach consumption.

That is about the end of it. The rest played out nationally following a conference call with NM, UT, OR, CDC, and FDA Thursday morning (14 Sept). FDA went public later that day.