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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

The FBI says California is the likely source of E. coli-contaminated spinach that's made nearly 100 people sick in 20 states. It's being blamed for at least one death. Investigators still don't know exactly where the tainted produce came from, but late today, Earthbound Farms of California decided to voluntarily pull all the company's spinach from store shelves.

NPR's John McChesney has been following today's developments and he joins us now from Sausalito. John, why is the company recalling their spinach before the FDA identifies the source of the E. coli?

JOHN MCCHESNEY: Well, Michele, because of all of the epidemiological evidence, that is the statistical evidence, points to products produced by Earthbound Farms. They don't have a hard science connection yet with products from Earthbound farms, but interviews with the patients, the people who've been infected, indicates that they have eaten products from Earthbound Farms.

So right now, that epidemiological evidence points at this company, but the FDA is careful to say it's not limited necessarily to this company. There may be other companies involved, other products involved.

NORRIS: But for now, what can you tell us about this one company, Earthbound Farms?

MCCHESNEY: Earthbound is legendary in the organic food business. They were started back in 1986 by Drew and Myra Goodman. They were the first company to bag the spring lettuce. They now serve, they say, 22 million salads a week to American consumers. They are sold in 74% of American supermarkets. So they're a big deal in the organic food business.

NORRIS: And John, as we said, the scare involves at least 20 states at this point. Do investigators have any idea how so much spinach got contaminiated?

MCCHESNEY: Not really. And I don't think they even know, you know, the total quantity. I mean, we're talking about 100 people getting sick. But you know, organic farmers use manure as their fertilizer instead of chemical fertilizer. And if the manure isn't properly composted to where the temperature gets high enough to kill these pathogens, then you've got a problem and that could be the issue here.

There are other possible contamination sources, as well.

NORRIS: We heard today that washing the spinach isn't enough to make it safe. Why not? And I'm also wondering if any other bagged produce might be involved.

MCCHESNEY: Well, apparently, according to the FDA people, the E. coli gets so engrained into the tissue of the spinach, you can't really wash it off. You can wash your spinach, but it won't do any good. And one of the things they're saying, it's not just bagged produce now. Earthbound Farms and other companies pack their stuff in so-called plastic clamshells, you know, the plastic boxes. That also should not be used.

What the FDA is saying, don't eat any fresh spinach product or any mixed product that has fresh spinach in it.

NORRIS: Thank you John, that's NPR's John McChesney reporting from Northern California. Thanks so much, John.

MCCHESNEY: Thank you, Michele.

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