HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (FNS) -- An outbreak of E. coli bacterial infection linked to unpasteurized apple juice products is causing health officials to question the safety of unpasteurized juices.
The outbreak had affected at least 65 people, most of them children, within five days after the first case was reported. It was linked to juice manufactured by Odwalla, the country's largest fresh juice producer, based here.
Odwalla voluntarily recalled 13 apple juice-based products plus three other juices processed with the same machinery. By Nov. 2, all the recalled products had been removed from 4,600 stores in seven Western states and British Columbia, Odwalla said.
Joe Madden, strategic manager for microbiology at the Food and Drug Administration, Rockville, Md., told the press the virulent E. coli 0157:H7 strain is evolving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, has published articles warning that the bacteria can live in environments previously thought too acidic, such as apple juice.
Bob Howard, a representative of the CDC, was quoted in California papers as saying, "We know the threat is there. The CDC believes you should seek products that are pasteurized. All it takes is one mistake."
Most of the people affected in the recent outbreak are recovering, though one two-year-old girl in Oakland, Calif., was in critical but stable condition as of Nov. 2. Since E. coli infections can take up to 10 days to appear, health officials indicated the toll may continue to rise.
Odwalla juices are distributed in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and British Columbia.
In the Seattle area, where the first cases in this outbreak were detected and where another E. coli outbreak attributed to undercooked hamburgers killed three children and sickened hundreds of others in 1993, supermarkets moved quickly to pull the Odwalla juices.
Both Quality Food Centers, with 64 stores in the Puget Sound region, and Larry's Markets, with five Seattle stores, removed all Odwalla juices from the shelves and urged shoppers to return any Odwalla juice to their stores for a full refund, regardless of where the product was purchased.
Safeway Stores carries Odwalla juices in its northern California; Denver; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle divisions, and removed all the products, not just the ones recalled, from the special refrigerated cases in the produce departments where the juice was displayed.
Lucky Stores carries Odwalla juices in its northern California stores and a few stores in southern California, and pulled the recalled products, said an official.
Odwalla said the apple juice products are being tested by it and by government agencies. The Washington State Department of Health said the genetic "fingerprints" of the bacteria affecting sick people who drank Odwalla juices are alike, suggesting the same thing made them ill.
In a statement two days after the initial recall, Odwalla said, "The relation between Odwalla's apple juice products and E. coli infection is what the FDA call 'epidemiological,' that is, there is a linkage of people who have the infection and have consumed the product."
J.M. Smucker Co., Orrville, Ohio, in a release issued by the National Nutritional Foods Association, pointed out that its apple and other juices sold under several brand names, including After the Fall and Natural Brew, are pasteurized twice and, therefore, cannot be contaminated with the E. coli bacteria.
Odwalla markets its juices as fresh and unpasteurized with no preservatives, using the slogan "Drink it and Thrive."
Company executives said they were concentrating on the outbreak and the people affected and had not considered whether they might change their processing procedure in the future.
"Right now, our primary care and concern is for the health and safety of our customers," said Greg Steltenpohl, chairman. "We are doing everything in our power and fully partnering with all authorities to find out more about this situation." Odwalla has offered to pay the medical expenses of people whose illness was caused by drinking Odwalla products.
The 16 products recalled are apple juice, Blackberry Fruitshake, Mango Tango, Super Protein, strawberry banana smoothie, raspberry smoothie, C-Monster, strawberry C-Monster, Mo' Beta, Femme Vitale, Superfood, Serious Ginseng, Deep in Peach, carrot juice, organic carrot juice and vegetable cocktail.