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Spinach pulled from shelves after E. coli outbreak

Staff and wire reports
Jeff Chiu / The Associated Press / A sign informing customers that fresh spinach has been removed is shown as customer Jeff Leider sorts through packaged salad mixes Friday at Mollie Stone's Tower Market in San Francisco.
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South Shore grocers and restaurants pulled spinach from their shelves after federal authorities warned over the weekend of an E. coli outbreak tied to tainted spinach from California’s Central Valley.

The greens, which appear to grown by the world’s largest producer of organic produce, have sickened 102 people and killed a 77-year-old woman, according to health officials.

Federal agents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intervened this weekend to help investigate the bacteria, which has not been isolated in products sold by the holding company based in San Juan Bautista, Calif., also known for Earthbound Farm and other brands. Other brands may be implicated.



Raley’s corporate office in Sacramento sent an e-mail this weekend to its produce managers, asking them to pull all brands of fresh spinach. Its two stores in South Lake Tahoe at the Village Center and the “Y” carry the Dole and Garden Fresh brands. Assistant Manager Tom McGowan said it’s a shame, but “you can’t be too careful.”

Safeway’s produce manager Mark Burton said he also took bags of spinach salad off the shelves and pulled whole-leaf spinach from the bins. Burton recalled the notion among some of the bag salads not selling when they first came out. Now, they’re extremely popular.



One of the reasons why consumers are so receptive to ready-to-serve bags is because the ingredients are just thrown into a salad bowl.

“(But) I tell everybody to wash all produce,” said Burton, who uses a strainer and paper towel to treat his lettuce and spinach.

Beyond Grass Roots Natural Foods – which carried the brand currently in question, restaurants from Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course to Pasaretti’s have also followed suit and eliminated the produce from its kitchens.

CDC officials said Sunday they’ve started an Atlanta-based emergency operations center to help state health agencies on an as-needed basis with E. coli testing. Epidemiologists are helping test spinach samples and stool samples of those who have been infected, center spokeswoman Lola Russell said.

The center is helping when state health agencies can’t perform the tests or when a second opinion is needed, Russell said. She said the center will remain open until the crisis abates.

E. coli cases linked to tainted spinach have been reported in 19 states, with a majority of cases in Wisconsin. Only one illness has been reported in California.

The Food and Drug Administration continued to warn consumers this weekend to avoid spinach.

The spinach, grown in California’s Central Valley, could have been contaminated in the field or during processing. About 74 percent of the fresh market spinach grown in the U.S. comes from California, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

There have been previous bacterial contamination outbreaks linked to spinach and lettuce grown in the state.

Natural Selection Foods LLC recalled its packaged spinach throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico as a precaution after federal health officials said some of those hospitalized reported eating brands of prepackaged spinach distributed by the company.

Natural Selection officials could not be immediately reached on Sunday.

The company was founded in 1984 by Drew and Myra Goodman, who left Manhattan to farm a small raspberry farm in California’s Carmel Valley. Within two years, Earthbound Farm began shipping pre-washed, packaged salad fixings, and the company’s “spring mix” became a mainstay of restaurants and supermarkets.

-Tribune staff writer Susan Wood contributed to The Associated Press report.


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