St. Louis E. coli Outbreak Possibly Linked to Salad Bar

The St. Louis County health department finally acknowledged that Schnucks salad bars are at the center of a probe into an <"">E. coli infection outbreak in that area.

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.

St. Louis Today reports that 34 people from one year of age to 94 have suffered from E. coli infections that appear to be linked to Schnucks. Schnucks has replaced some, but not all, of its salad bar produce. The salad bars, said the Post-Dispatch, were the common link in a number of 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.

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 the St. Louis today.

Schnucks sent a press release that indicated, “To date, no tests taken from Schnucks stores have come back positive for E. coli and no original source has been pinpointed, but Schnucks Food Safety is taking every possible precaution,” reported St. Louis Today. Schnucks pointed out that it “the dominant salad bar operator in the St. Louis metropolitan area,” St. Louis Today wrote, and was not surprised it was the common link.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials arrived in the area late last week to assist with the probe, referring most questions to Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services. Meanwhile, the state health department—the lead into the investigation—has not released significant information and has only really said that lab testing continues, said St. Louis Today. And, although consumers are worried and repeated telephone calls have been placed to the Department, its spokeswoman, Jacqueline Lapine, spokeswoman, has not returned a single call.

Those testing positive in the hospital for the dangerous, sometimes deadly, E. coli infection are being interviewed by the local health department, said St. Louis Today, which noted that the health department said it was not able, until yesterday, to discuss the potential bacteria source.

Jefferson County health director Dennis Diehl said samples from Schnucks stores and distribution centers have been collected, but that samples from people’s homes may not be reliable. “Once people have any product at home, even though we might not suspect it or have any reason to think this could happen, they’ve got the opportunity to either mishandle it accidentally or on purpose,” he noted, wrote St. Louis Today.

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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