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St. Louis Stores Reacting to Growing E. coli Outbreak

Some stores are pulling produce, while others wait for more direction from health officials.

The St. Louis County Department of Health is investigating an E. coli outbreak. Health officials now confirm 16 cases of the bacteria were reported this week.

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Late Thursday afternoon, Health Department Spokesperson John Shelton confirms six people have been hospitalized and treated at Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur. He stated the source of the E. coli is food-borne and health officials are investigating to see if there is a link to local store salad bars.

Shelton said all of the affected people have not been interviewed and a source has not been positively identified. The cases are spread out from Florissant to South County, but Shelton did not give more specific information on where the cases were reported.

The health department has not asked any grocery stores to pull any food from shelves or salad bars, Shelton said. 

Meanwhile, stores in Town and Country and Manchester are now reacting to the news, but with no named source each store is reacting differently.

Town and Country Marketing Director Marcia Whelan tells Patch that at this point Whole Foods has not pulled any items from store shelves or the salad bar.

"I don't know what we wold pull off the shelf if we don't know what is causing it," Whelan explained. "I can't imagine how we would even begin to approach that without some sense of direction."

Whelan said she will continue working closely with Whole Foods corporate office and wait for any further direction as far as the outbreak.

spokeswoman Lori Willis tells Patch that when got news of the outbreak from the health department, it began taking proactive precautionary steps until more information is available.

"Our food safety team go involved and they started asking questions. They started tracking back to items that have a history that suggests they could be part of a recall," Willis tells Patch. She said some items have been pulled from the salad bar, including lettuce and strawberries, but points out this was done voluntarily and the store was not asked to remove the items. "We were not asked to do this. This was a precaution taken by our food safety team. They're going to error on the side of safety."

Willis also reiterates, these food items have not been named as a source of the bacteria.

"I do not want to implicate products that don't have anything to do with this investigation," Willis said. "I can tell you very certainly that the health department assured us they do not have a source at this time, nor do they know the scope of the outbreak, whether it's local or larger than that."

Willis said at this point, Schnucks and others in the food service industry are working closely with the health department as it investigates to find a source.

"We take E. coli very seriously, as should anyone in the food industry. Until we get additional information, there is not much we can do. We expect to know much more in 24 hours," Willis said. "Certainly there will be some type of recall coming."

Town and Country - Manchester Patch is waiting for more details from the St. Louis County Health Department. Check back for any updates.

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