MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
California is called the likely source of E. coli-contaminated spinach that has made dozens of people sick and has caused at least one death. So far, the tainted spinach has turned-up in 10 states. It was sold pre-packaged and pre-washed.
And as NPR's John McChesney reports, health experts say that no amount of washing will make the spinach safe.
JOHN McCHESNEY: The E. coli scare stretches across the country, and most supermarkets aren't waiting for an official order to pull packaged spinach from their shelves. They're doing it voluntarily. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, at the Super Shop & Stop market, consumers like Lucille Becker(ph) were anxious to find out more about which brands of produce were affected.
Ms. LUCILLE BECKER (Bridgeport, Connecticut): Well, I'm worried about my daughter. She had a spinach salad yesterday for lunch - we took her out for lunch - and I hope she's all right. It just tells you the kids are right, we shouldn't eat spinach.
McCHESNEY: Robert Brackett is the director of the Federal Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety. He says if you have packaged spinach that you purchased recently, you should dump it.
Mr. ROBERT BRACKETT (Federal Food and Drug Administration) Because once the organism is on the tissue itself, it is extremely difficult to eliminate, and even when the consumer washes it in their own home, they're not going to get rid of the E. coli if it's there.
McCHESNEY: The FDA has issued a warning to all states because it's unknown at this time how widely the product has been distributed. So far the tainted spinach has turned up in 10 states - California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Kentucky and Wisconsin, where 30 people got sick and one died. Carol Tucker Foreman is with the Consumer Federation of America.
Ms. CAROL TUCKER FOREMAN (Consumer Federation of America): E. coli grows in the intestines of cattle, and the fact that spinach has been infected with this organism means that somehow the spinach came into contact with cattle feces, infected cattle feces. That might happen in an open field if they were using unsterilized manure.
McCHESNEY: In 1993, four children died in an E. coli outbreak traced to Jack in the Box hamburgers, and that led to major reforms in the way ground beef is inspected. But the Consumer Federation's Foreman says similar inspections of packaged produce are not in place.
Ms. FOREMAN: They are not inspected on a regular basis. There is no regular testing to make sure that whatever efforts a company is making are effective.
McCHESNEY: Officials are focusing their investigative efforts on the state of California. During this time of year, the Salinas Valley in California is the nation's major source of fresh spinach. Much of it is grown organically, often fertilized with cow manure. Advocates of organic farming are worried that their industry may be tarnished by the outbreak, but the FDA's Robert Brackett says his agency is not focusing only on the organic produce industry.
Mr. BRACKETT: Well, we're looking at all of them, and anybody that would be using a raw animal manure, of course, would automatically rise to the top of our list to look at.
McCHESNEY: Brackett says the task ahead is to identify specific brands, and even specific case lots, that may be the source of the problem.
John McChesney, NPR News.