North Idaho

Department of Health tracked E. coli outbreak through patient survey, lab tests

Department of Health tracked E. coli outbreak through patient survey, lab tests

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Food and Drug Administration is taking over the investigation of a multi-state E. coli outbreak believed to be linked to clover sprouts from north Idaho producer, Evergreen Produce.

The Washington Department of Health said Wednesday, that there has been ten illnesses since May 1, ranging from King to Kootenai Counties. All ten were females between the ages of 20 to 40 years old.

"When it's detected in a laboratory and the health care provider sees it, they have to report it to us," Spokane Regional Health District Epidemiologist Dorothy MaCeachern said.

That's when the investigation begins. Each patient fills out The Department of Health's six-page survey for E. coli. The questions ask what the individual has been doing during the incubation period,which is typically the past 10 days.

"We have a lot of very specific questions about what they've been eating.," MaCeachern said.

Everything from meat to milk, produce to water is questioned. The answer that reoccurred on all ten surveys: clover sprouts. It was at that point the Food Safety Program stepped in.

"Typically we'll get information on symptomology and meal history to see what is in their meal history," Lisa Breen, an environmental public health specialist with the Spokane Regional Health District said. "To see if there anything in there that we have existing illness complaints on."

In this recent case, the local food safety program had six restaurants to visit: three Jimmy John's, two in Spokane, one in Idaho, Pita Pit on the South Hill, Our Daily Bread in Spokane and Daanen's Deli in Hayden, Idaho.

"We'll look at food handling practices, we'll look at their policy for when employees are sick, when they can work and when they can't work," Breen said.

Since health officials already knew what they were looking for, the next step was to find where it came from by looking at distributors and producers. Ultimately, health officials put out the advisory to not consume Evergreen Produce's clover sprouts because of the reoccurring evidence.