As the St. Louis County Department of Health investigates an E. coli outbreak, health officials are now looking into reports that some of the infected patients mentioned visiting stores prior to falling ill.
"One of the focuses that we are looking into at this time is salad bars in Schnucks stores," Health Department Spokesperson John Shelton tells Patch Tuesday. "Many of those we have interviewed said they have purchased and eaten items from Schnucks salad bars. We have not narrowed it down to a single item on a salad bar."
Shelton tells Patch that health officials are still in the middle of the investigation and he is not sure when a source may be identified.
"We have not interviewed all the people and tested all the samples. It's a 37-page questionnaire we ask them. This is very time intensive," Shelton said Tuesday.
Monday, Schnucks stated in a press release that while has not been identified as a source in the on-going investigation, Schnucks has "voluntarily and proactively removed all items in question from salad bars across the company."
Health officials said 16 cases of the bacteria were reported in St. Louis County last week. Health Department Spokesperson John Shelton previously confirmed to Patch that six people were hospitalized and treated at 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.
Last week, spokeswoman Lori Willis told Patch that when got news of the outbreak from the health department, it began taking precautionary steps by pulling some items from its salad bar.
"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," Schnucks stated in the news release Monday. "Health officials report that Schnucks stores were mentioned during some of the recent patient food histories spanning 7 – 10 days. This is not surprising in that Schnucks, by sheer number of stores (66), is the dominant salad bar operator in the St. Louis metropolitan area."
The release also states that as more cases of E. coli are reported across the country and outside of Schnucks' area of operation, store officials feel additional research is needed.
"It’s important that health officials are able to target an item or items in order to track this outbreak back to a source," the release stated.
Schnucks is deferring customers with questions about the E. coli outbreak to the St. Louis County Health Department at 314-615-1600.
Shelton is advising concerned consumers to toss out any produce they may be concerned about.
"When it doubt, throw it out. It's not worth taking the risk if you think it might make you sick," Shelton said. He also advises people to thoroughly wash all produce before eating it.
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Updated with responses from the Health Department at 2:55 p.m. November 1.