Spinach was one of the earliest superfoods of our time, way before kale or goji berries came into the spotlight. Famously the source of Popeye’s bulging muscles, spinach has long been recommended as a nutritional powerhouse. But spinach is also to blame for the deadliest foodborne disease outbreak from leafy vegetables that has ever been reported.
In 2006, an outbreak of E. coli led to almost 200 laboratory-confirmed illnesses, half of which resulted in hospitalization. Thirty-one people developed kidney failure, and at least three cases linked to the outbreakresulted in death.
Among the victims were an elderly woman from Wisconsin, a toddler from Idaho, and an elderly woman from Nebraska. A woman in Maryland also died after consuming raw spinach, but there was not enough evidence to link her death to the outbreak.
The source of the outbreak was identified as fresh bagged spinach, so Popeye’s canned greens were not affected.
Edward and Delphine Hein hosted an annual winter dinner party for friends and family at their farmstead near Grafton, North Dakota. In 1931, they held their event on the night of January 29. Delphine served a salad sprinkled with peas that she had canned herself. Within days, 12 people fell ill and died. Edward and Delphine, as well as three of their six children, were among the victims.
Authorities determined that the deaths were caused by the home-canned peas. They were contaminated by toxins that cause botulism poisoning. Symptoms include blurry vision and difficulty swallowing or speaking. Without treatment, botulism can lead to death.
All 12 people who died shortly after the dinner party had consumed the legume-laden salad. Another guest who had removed the peas before eating the salad fell ill and died a week later, bringing the total death count to 13.
The three children who survived—Richard, Marvin, and Wilfred—were too young to attend the party and spent the evening in their rooms, saving them from exposure to the fatal peas.