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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 19, 2006

Gov. Blagojevich, Restaurant Association and Retail Merchants Association reiterate call to grocery stores and restaurants to pull spinach from shelves and menus
Illinois Department of Public Health stresses urgency of contacting health care providers and local health authorities upon onset of symptoms

SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, the Illinois Restaurant Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association today joined together to reiterate their call to all grocery stores and restaurants in Illinois to help prevent E. Coli contamination by pulling spinach, and spinach-related products from shelves and menus.
 
More than 110 people in 21 states have been sickened by contaminated spinach since the E. Coli virus was identified in fresh spinach last week. Yesterday, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) confirmed the first case of E. Coli O157:H7 in the state, related to consumption of bagged spinach.
 
“We want to reiterate our request to grocery stores and restaurants to protect children, seniors and families from E. Coli contamination and to take spinach off their shelves and menus until we know for sure that the products are safe. I thank the Illinois Restaurant Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association for joining us in asking restaurants and grocers to help protect their customers,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
 
“Since this outbreak of E. Coli was announced last week, the Illinois Restaurant Association has been encouraging our restaurant members and restaurants throughout the state to stop serving fresh spinach or products containing fresh spinach,” said Colleen McShane, President of the Illinois Restaurant Association. “Food safety is a non-negotiable issue in our industry. We ask our restaurateurs to err on the side of caution until the FDA can fully complete their investigation and find a definitive cause to this outbreak.”
"Illinois food retailers continue to make sure the public in Illinois is protected from food borne illnesses and that Illinoisans have the safest food in the world. Illinois Grocers have taken fresh spinach and other spinach related products off the grocery shelves until the FDA tells us spinach is safe. Just like Gov. Blagojevich, Illinois food retailers believe that insuring a safe food supply is ‘Job One’," said David F. Vite, President and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
IDPH has been working with local health authorities, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the federal Food and Drug Administration to determine the cause of the outbreak. Through the Lettuce Safety Initiative, the FDA has attempted to reduce public health risks by focusing on the geographic areas of greatest concern and the products suspected of causing the outbreak. In addition the FDA has advised individuals to not consume any fresh spinach and continues to investigate new cases as they occur.
 
The Illinois Restaurant Association recommended yesterday that restaurants in the state followed federal and state guidelines to temporarily remove fresh and fresh-processed spinach and other fresh produce items containing spinach from their menus until the health alerts are lifted.
 
E. Coli O157:H7 is a virulent strain comparison to other strains of E. Coli. It causes diarrhea, often with bloody stools. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop a form of kidney failure called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). The condition can lead to serious kidney damage and even death.
 
IDPH is working with the Centers for Disease Control’s laboratory to test persons suspected of being linked with the outbreak. Health care providers with suspect cases may submit specimens to the IDPH laboratory for testing after consulting with their local health department.         
 
“We’re pleased that restaurants and grocers are cooperating by removing fresh spinach from their menus and shelves,” said Dr. Eric Whitaker, State Public Health Director.  “Until this situation is cleared up and the spinach poses no harm, we want to make sure no one else it at risk.  Anyone who thinks they may have experienced symptoms of illness after eating fresh spinach or products containing spinach are urged to contact their health care provider and local health department.”
 
IDPH has advised individuals who may be experiencing symptoms of illness after consuming fresh spinach or products containing fresh-processed spinach to immediately contact their health care providers.


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