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You Ask, I Answer: E.Coli & Spinach

spinach leavesThe recent articles on E.Coli are waaaaay scary.

I am more scared about the leafy green vegetable aspect than the risk from eating meat.

Can I minimize my risk by cooking my spinach instead of eating it raw?  Does that kill the bacteria?

– Dennise O’Grady
Bay Head, NJ

The particular strain of E.coli implicated in all these foodborne illness cases (E.coli 0157:H7) can be killed by cooking.

More specifically, infected spinach is rendered safe if it is cooked for at least 15 seconds at 160 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

However, one common mistake many people make is using the same knife they used to cut up infected spinach to chop raw vegetables for a salad.

In that case, even if the infected spinach is cooked for ten minutes at 300 degrees Fahrehnheit, those raw salad vegetables could very well be contaminated.

PS: I have read some very inaccurate reports which claim that dunking spinach in ice water for 30 minutes kills E.coli.  It does not!  Also, “veggie washes” do NOT kill E.coli!

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4 Comments

  1. dennise said on October 16th, 2009

    so I should be using a different knife for spinach vrs. other raw veggies?

  2. Andy Bellatti said on October 16th, 2009

    You could certainly do that. Or, use one knife for all vegetables, but just leave the spinach for last.

  3. Terri K said on October 16th, 2009

    So do you recommend not eating raw spinach? I eat it all the time in salads (the organic bags of spinach from Trader Joes) and feed it to my daughter (she doesn’t like it cooked) so now I am debating if I should just stay away from raw spinach all together.

  4. Andy Bellatti said on October 16th, 2009

    It’s difficult to say. While raw spinach is slightly riskier simply from the standpoint that it has been implicated in more E.coli cases than other vegetables, there are millions of pounds of spinach that are safe to eat in a raw state. I would recommend staying away from raw spinach for 3 – 4 weeks anytime an E.coli outbreak is traced back to it (it can take a while for contaminated batches to be taken off of supermarket shelves).

    Of course, if you grow your own, you don’t really need to worry about this.

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