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Bagged Salad Suspected in E. Coli Outbreak

Twenty illnesses in Orange and San Diego counties may be linked to one processor.

October 09, 2003|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

An outbreak of 20 E. coli cases in San Diego and Orange counties appears to be connected to a bagged lettuce mix used by two school districts and the Pat & Oscar's restaurant chain, state and local health officials said Wednesday.

None of the cases resulted in death, and the suspect salad mix has been removed from restaurant kitchens and the San Marcos Unified and Alpine Union school districts, according to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.

"The salad mix seems to be the prime focus," said Jonah Weinberg, a spokesman for the agency.

"It hasn't been ruled in or ruled out yet, but it's being looked into."

The infection the victims experienced is caused by a strain of E. coli bacteria that can cause abdominal cramping, bloody diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.

People experiencing such symptoms should call a doctor.

Most of the recent cases were reported between Sept. 30 and Oct. 4.

Many victims reported eating salad at Pat & Oscar's restaurants in Irvine, Carlsbad, Mission Valley and El Cajon.

Worldwide Restaurant Concepts Inc., operator of the Sizzler steakhouse chain and owner of Pat & Oscar's, said the investigation is focusing on food suppliers, not the restaurants themselves.

"We think we've isolated it to a particular processor, but until we're sure, we don't want to name that processor," said Steve Fink, a spokesman for Worldwide Restaurant Concepts.

The public is urged to wash produce carefully, including bagged lettuce, and to cook all ground beef or hamburger to a temperature of 160 degrees, making sure the meat is brown to the center.

The outbreak is also being investigated by the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health and the California Department of Health.

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