St. Louis E. coli Outbreak Grows

Dozens have fallen ill and more are expected in a St. Louis <"">E. coli outbreak that had been initially linked to Schnucks salad bars. As we’ve written, an “overwhelming majority” of those who fell ill with E. coli infections reportedly ate salad bar items at a number of Schnuck salad bars, according to John Shelton, county health spokesman.

Now, StLToday reports that the outbreak is being potentially linked to grocery produce. St. Louis County health officials have confirmed that the E. coli O157 strain involved is foodborne; however, because not all of those sickened have been interviewed, the investigation continues, said St. L Today. Because the incubation period for E. coli can be up to 10 days, more illnesses are expected to occur.

Reports of illness have varied from anywhere from 23 to 38 people sickened and about six people hospitalized. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) involved in the investigation.

Although no market has been asked to pull food from shelves, Schnucks has removed or replaced some of salad bar and grocery produce.

“Once we heard that the health department had declared an outbreak, we took some proactive steps with our food safety team to switch products out that recent history told us could be potential sources,” said Schnucks spokeswoman Lori Willis, according to StLToday. A prior Post-Dispatch report indicated that Schnucks produce was the common link in a number of the illness cases. As a matter-of-fact, four people interviewed by the Post-Dispatch, said they were diagnosed with E. coli infections and had eaten produce from Schnuck salad bars in High Ridge, Ladue, downtown St. Louis, and Ballwin, we previously wrote.

Lori Willis, Schnucks spokeswoman, said that the stores had pulled some produce including lettuce, from its salad bars, following the advice of its food safety team, wrote StLToday earlier this week. Of note, Schnucks sells similar produce on it shelves. At least one hospitalized patient reported purchasing Schnucks produce she later used to make her own salads. Another patient reportedly ate pre-packaged salads purchased from Schnucks.

The outbreak is considered large by St. Louis County standards, where, in 2010, there were a total of five reported E. coli illness cases, said StLToday. “Once we decide we’ve gotten to a significant case load and we suspect there may be people out there who have the disease, we make the decision to alert the public,” said Dr. Dolores Gunn, the department’s director. “You do not want people who are positive (for E. coli) thinking they have the stomach flu and don’t need to follow up,” she added, wrote StLToday.

Bacteria samples are being laboratory tested in Jefferson City by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services; results are pending and can take several days, noted StLToday.

E. coli is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea; dehydration; and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors, and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to develop an infection from foodborne pathogens.

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