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FDA takes heat over recent E. coli outbreak

As the national spinach-based E. coli outbreak stretches into 21 states, food safety advocates called on the federal government to revamp its regulations for fruit and vegetable production.

As of Monday afternoon, the CDC reported that 114 people, including one in California, have been infected with a strain of E. coli that has been linked to fresh spinach. One person has died as a result, and there is an ongoing investigation into the cause of a second death. The FDA said it found no evidence of deliberate contamination.

The food poisonings are the latest in a string of at least 19 outbreaks linked to lettuce or spinach since 1995. Eight were traced to the Salinas Valley, known as the "salad bowl of the world."

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that Congress must streamline the patchwork of agencies that now oversee see food safety, provide more resources for inspecting farms and processing plants, hand the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture the power to issue mandatory recalls and tighten regulations for the handling and processing food.

The FDA is already in the process of implementing the Lettuce Safety Initiative, an effort to assess industry practices, refine government guidelines and consider additional regulatory action. The organization said it will now expand the initiative to include spinach.

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