On Thursday, Publix grocery store employees stocked the first cases of spinach to grace the store's shelves in several weeks since an E. coli outbreak was linked to tainted spinach.
"We only carry the Publix brand at this time," said Wilsaint Toussaint, produce manager for the Evans Publix on Washington Road.
The store received its first shipment containing one case of baby spinach and one case of regular spinach.
"Everybody knows about it, and the only thing they want to know is when are we getting it back," he said.
As in many Columbia County grocery stores and restaurants, Toussaint said packaged fresh spinach and any salad mixes containing spinach were removed from Publix shelves several weeks ago, when E. coli illnesses were traced back to Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, Calif.
The manager of the Evans Kroger on Washington Road said last week that all spinach products were pulled from the shelves and would not be replaced until proved safe for consumption.
The E. coli strain that killed three people and sickened nearly 200 in much of U.S. was found at a cattle ranch in California's Salinas Valley, within a mile of spinach fields, according to a release from investigators Friday. Though the deadly strain of E. coli found at the ranch was the same strain found in sick people and bags of recalled spinach, investigators are still trying to determine whether the ranch is the source of the E. coli outbreak.
Investigations into several other spinach farms are under way, investigators said.
In the meantime, Phyllis Roland, the facility administrator for Columbia County's Health Department, said she received a recent alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating local spinach supplies are safe. Roland said a spokesman for the East Central Health Department said, "there have been no cases in Georgia associated with the tainted spinach and that spinach is being placed back on the shelves in area supermarkets."
Roland said she purchased some spinach during the weekend.
"I think it is safe," Roland said.
Spinach was removed from all menu items at Peppermill, co-owner Glenn Kersh said, and patrons of the Evans restaurant have not leaned toward steak and other meats to avoid salad-related dishes.
"It is about the same," Kersh said, Lettuce and other greens are thoroughly washed and spun dry, he said. "Other than us not having spinach, business-wise and what they are eating, it is about the normal ... Here, we give a salad with every meal and nobody is turning the salad away."
Cindy Greenwell, owner of BG's Fine Deli and Catering in Harlem, said she, too, has stopped using spinach in the few dishes that contained it and doesn't plan to for several more weeks to make sure the spinach is safe. As a precaution, Greenwell said her employees follow the restaurant's regular strict guidelines for double-washing all vegetables with a couple of drops of bleach added to the water to kill any bacteria per health department rules.
"We sell an awful lot of salads," Greenwell said, adding that salad-eating patrons have not stopped ordering the leafy greens in favor of meats, sandwiches or pasta dishes.
At Fatz Cafe, dishes containing spinach were stripped of spinach when the E. coli sicknesses came to light. Spinach was replaced with chopped romaine lettuce, said Tom Clark, the owner.
Clark said the restaurant, which serves lettuce only after it has been thoroughly washed, will not carry spinach for a while to ensure the safety of restaurant patrons.
That said, the scare has not deterred salad lovers from their favorite meals, he said.
"We sell as many salads as we always have," Clark said. "We have seen no change. People really have appreciated us because we stopped serving it. They seem to have no problem with switching to the chopped romaine."
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