- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

Washington-area grocery stores and restaurants are pulling packaged spinach from their shelves as an outbreak of E. coli spreads to 20 states, including Virginia, causing one death.

Three local grocery chains — Giant Food, Safeway and Food Lion — took the precautionary step of pulling bags of spinach from the shelves after the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to eat bagged spinach, the suspected source of the bacterial outbreak.

“We are using an abundance of caution and holding the spinach until further word from the Food and Drug Administration,” said Greg TenEyck, a spokesman for Safeway.

Representatives from the grocery chains said it is too early to estimate the cost of eliminating spinach, but indicated that suppliers may take the brunt of the loss.

Local restaurants are taking spinach off the menu until federal and state officials deem it safe.

The FDA has not identified a supplier, brand name or grower that may be distributing the infected spinach.

Federal authorities yesterday added 12 states to the list where people have gotten sick, bringing the total to 20 states. The states hit by the infection are: California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

No cases of the bacteria have been found in the District or Maryland.

Last night, the FDA extended its warning to all bagged salads containing spinach, and Natural Selection Foods recalled all salads containing spinach with “best if used dates” of between Aug. 17 and Oct. 1.

Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., which includes more than 600 restaurants in the District and Northern Virginia, said member restaurants are pulling spinach from menus. She added that restaurants are unlikely to suffer losses because of the outbreak.

California Tortilla, which was founded in Bethesda and operates 17 restaurants in the Washington area, has taken items containing spinach off the menu.

In addition, Charlie Palmer Steakhouse on Capitol Hill and McCormick & Schmick’s in Bethesda and downtown Washington have eliminated spinach from their menus.

“The produce suppliers are warning us and we are heeding the warning and pulling anything spinach-related off the menu until further notice,” said Bryan Voltaggio, the restaurant’s executive chef and general manager.

The FDA estimates that 94 persons have been infected with E. coli with 14 experiencing kidney failure. The one death pinned to the outbreak was reported in Wisconsin, where 20 persons were reported infected, the most in any state.

FDA officials said Thursday that they don’t know the exact cause of the E. coli outbreak, but after questioning infected people have determined the likely source is bagged spinach.

The federal officials also warned that washing the spinach will not eliminate the bacteria. Cooking at 160 degrees Fahrenheit kills the organisms.

“Bagged spinach is the most likely source of the E. coli. We are advising people not to eat it,” said David Acheson of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

When asked about the magnitude of the outbreak, he said, “Time will tell. This is significant.”

The E. coli strain causes diarrhea and could lead to kidney failure, although Dr. Acheson said most healthy adults can recover quickly. The bacteria live in the intestines of cattle and other animals. It causes an estimated 73,000 cases of infection each year, including 61 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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