All News / Outbreaks /

Wis. children suffer spinach illnesses

September 20, 2006

Associated Press

Dinesh Ramde

MILWAUKEE -- Anne Grintjes can't even look at produce now without cringing.

"I went through a grocery store the other day and I just flinched when I looked at all the greens," said Grintjes, whose 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter fell ill during a multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to tainted spinach. "It's hard not to, after watching your little boy struggling for his life in a hospital bed."

The boy spent 10 days in Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, battling infection and kidney failure. His mother said the boy ate fresh bagged spinach before he started getting sick Sept. 2.

"He couldn't move, he couldn't walk. He was yellow," she said. "The little boy that he was, you know, was there behind the sick eyes but the disease was taking over his body. He was fighting for his life."

Now he's recovering, while his sister deals with symptoms that started last week, their mother said.

Both children tested positive for E. coli.

They are among 131 people in 21 states who have been linked to spinach contamination, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those taken ill, 66 were hospitalized and 20 developed a type of kidney failure, the CDC reported.

Wisconsin has been hardest hit with 32 confirmed cases, nearly a quarter of the total in the CDC count, and the only death. Utah reported 16 cases and Ohio 15. State figures put Wisconsin's total even higher.

Marion Graff, 77, a retired bank clerk and widow from Manitowoc, is the nation's only confirmed fatality in the outbreak. She died of kidney failure Sept. 7 caused by an E. coli infection.

Health officials were still trying to determine how Graff, whom relatives described as active and healthy, contracted the illness. Her son, Russell Graff, said she was fond of spinach and fresh fruit.

Natural Selection Foods LLC, a San Juan Bautista, Calif., company whose multiple brands many people reported eating before falling sick, has recalled spinach products distributed throughout the United States. The company also distributed spinach to Canada, Mexico and Taiwan.

River Ranch Fresh Foods, of Salinas, Calif., recalled spring salad mixes containing spinach purchased from Natural Selection. A third company, RLB Food Distributors LP, based in West Caldwell, N.J., said Tuesday it was voluntarily recalling salad mixes that may contain spinach supplied by Natural Selection.

Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services said that while they were concerned the state had more cases than any other, they noted that Wisconsin has an average of around 200 E. coli infections a year from a variety of sources, such as exposure to livestock waste and food contamination.

Paul Biedrzycki, the director of disease control and prevention for the City of Milwaukee Health Department, said reporting of E. coli infections is notoriously unreliable.

"If I see six cases, that could mean there were really 60 to 100 cases," he said. "Where you get concerned is when there's a cluster of cases within a short period of time."

Grintjes, the woman whose children are ill, said the outbreak has been draining. Her daughter's symptoms have been mild so far, she said, but "the wounds are raw" from the ordeal with her son.

"He was scared some days. He didn't say 'I'm scared,' but he cried some days," Grintjes said. "You could see it was more him sensing my fear."

Spinach won't be on the Grintjes family menu any time soon, especially for her son.

"Oh, he won't have it again, not for a long time," she said.

On the Net:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Get Help

Affected by an outbreak or recall?

The team at Marler Clark is here to answer all your questions. Find out if you’re eligible for a lawsuit, what questions to ask your doctor, and more.

Get a free consultation
Related Resources
E. coli Food Poisoning

What is E. coli and how does it cause food poisoning? Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a highly studied, common species of bacteria that belongs to the family Enterobacteriaceae, so...

E. coli O157:H7

E. coli O157:H7 is a foodborne pathogen that causes food poisoning. E. coli O157:H7 is the most commonly identified and the most notorious Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) serotype in...

Non-O157 STEC

Non-O157 Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli can also cause food poisoning. E. coli O157:H7 may be the most notorious serotype of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), but there are at least...

Sources of E. coli

Where do E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) come from? The primary reservoirs, or ultimate sources, of E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 STEC in nature are...

Transmission of and Infection with E. coli

While many dairy cattle-associated foodborne disease outbreaks are linked to raw milk and other raw dairy products (e.g., cheeses, butter, ice cream), dairy cattle still represent a source of contamination...

Outbreak Database

Looking for a comprehensive list of outbreaks?

The team at Marler Clark is here to answer all your questions. Find out if you’re eligible for a lawsuit, what questions to ask your doctor, and more.

View Outbreak Database