Bend, nation dump spinach

Kayley Mendenhall / The Bulletin Published Sep 16, 2006 at 05:00AM

Health officials still aren't certain what brand of bagged spinach has caused a nationwide E. coli outbreak, but grocery stores and some restaurants in Bend aren't taking any chances.

”Every salad, every brand that has any spinach in it, we pulled,” said Les Caudle, produce manager at Ray's Food Place on Century Drive. ”We are waiting to hear which one has the problem.”

The story was the same at Safeway on Century Drive, Fred Meyer and Newport Avenue Market Friday afternoon, as store managers stashed their stockpiles of spinach in back coolers to wait for more information about the outbreak.

Pizzicato also stopped selling its salads and pizzas that contain spinach Friday.

On Thursday, the Oregon Department of Human Services officials released information that five people in the state had been diagnosed with E. coli infections linked to consumption of bagged fresh spinach. Nationwide, more than 50 people have been sickened in at least 11 states and one death is attributed to the outbreak.

”We are asking people to not eat it, unless it is cooked,” said Shannon Dames, communicable disease coordinator for the Deschutes County Health Department. ”Until we know the specifics of the branding, make sure if you eat spinach, you cook it.”

In Deschutes County, stool samples from two people have been sent for laboratory testing to determine if they have the E. coli infection. Health department employees also talked with three other people who have suspect cases of the illness, Dames said. Health officials in Crook and Jefferson counties said they had no suspect cases as of Friday afternoon.

”This is a highly virulent strain of it,” said Bill Keene, an epidemiologist with the Oregon Department of Human Services. ”Two of our five cases were hospitalized. One of them with some kidney function problems.”

E. coli 0157 is a foodborne bacterial infection that can be passed from person to person, according to the department. Symptoms of the infection include bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps that can hit anytime from one to 10 days after exposure.

Most people recover from the illness, but some have serious complications, including kidney failure, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

”We are hearing of a number of reports coming in to local health departments from people who have eaten spinach and have been ill,” Keene said. ”Most of the cases are female, nationwide - on the order of 80 to 85 percent. Adult women are more likely to buy and eat this product ... Kids are not that wild about (bagged spinach).”

That fact may actually be helpful in reducing the number of serious infections, Keene said. Children under the age of 5 and the elderly are the most likely people to develop kidney failure from the E. coli bacteria.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has encouraged people not to eat bagged fresh spinach, no official recall of the products has been issued, Keene said. Stores and restaurants choosing to remove spinach from their shelves and menus are doing so voluntarily.

”We pulled everything because we don't want anybody to get sick,” said Spike Bement, store manager at Newport Market. ”We don't know if we have anything or not. We didn't want to take the chance.”

Last October, three Deschutes County residents had confirmed cases of E. coli and close to 90 people complained of symptoms after eating at McGrath's Fish House in Bend. That outbreak was linked by health officials to tainted parsley.

Symptoms

Symptoms of E. coli bacterial infection include bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. If people suspect they have E. coli, they should contact their health departments or their physicians.

* Deschutes County Health Department - 322-7400

* Crook County Health Department - 447-5165

* Jefferson County Health Department - 475-4456

Brian Moothart, produce manager at Newport Avenue Market, stands in the store cooler looking at bags of Earthbound Farms Organic Baby Spinach Salad. Newport Market, along with other local grocers, pulled spinach from its shelves Friday after reports that a nationwide E. coli outbreak may be linked to bagged fresh spinach.