Strength over spinach

With the recent nationwide E. coli scare, the University didn’t take any chances Friday.

As soon as Dining Services learned that some states surrounding Ohio were contaminated with E. coli ridden spinach, they took action.

“We pulled all our spinach before Ohio was even [on the Federal Drug Administration list], which it became later in the day,” said Gail Finan, director of University Dining Services. “Our prime food supplier, Gordon Food Services, told us that they’d credit our spinach supply, so we went ahead and pulled it all.”

Finan said she thought the University was very proactive upon learning about the issue and had all the spinach gone before breakfast was served Friday.

“We wanted to be precautionary and it’s a good thing we did because Ohio became [an officially contaminated state] later that day,” Finan said.

The University also issued an e-mail to students Friday concerning the situation and has put up signs around all dining areas indicating the FDA warning and that they won’t be serving raw spinach until further notice.

“E. coli is an enterobacterium (Escherichia coli) that is used in public health as an indicator of fecal pollution (as of water or food) and in medicine and genetics as a research organism, and that occurs in various strains that may live as harmless inhabitants of the human lower intestine or may produce a toxin causing intestinal illness,” according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary.

Since E. coli has different strains, how it affects the body depends on which one is ingested.

“E. coli is normal bacteria that is found in our gut, in the intestines, in the bowels,” said Dr. Glenn Egelman, director and physician-in-chief of Student Health Services. “The issue is that there is a strain – 0157:H7 – that is invasive and that causes abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, a fever, nausea ” it’s nasty.”

Egelman said the University has three main sources for public health related information and issues.

BG gets relatively frequent updates from the Centers for Disease Control on issues of concern. Student Health Services has a CDC laboratory that has a list for laboratory issues. Information is also received from the American College Health Association.

“We take the role of public health very seriously, so that’s why we’re on top of this,” Egelman said.

Senior Alison Washburn agreed that the University handled the situation well and thought that sending an e-mail right away was a good approach to let everyone know.

“They were good at informing students,” said Washburn, who initially found out about the issue from her mother.

Throughout 19 states and over 100 people across the country – 10 from Ohio – who have become victims of the outbreak, only two deaths have been reported so far, according to News9 at and The Associated Press.

One death was of a 77-year-old Wisconsin woman, who died of kidney failure related to E. coli and the other, a toddler, Olivia Perkins who was 23 months old and lived in nearby Cambridge in Guernsey County.

Despite the 10 Ohio cases, BG hasn’t had any problems or reported E. coli related instances so far, Egelman said.

But in any case, if someone is experiencing symptoms that may indicate they’re a victim of the E. coli strain, they should go to Student Health Services and both the doctors and the lab will work together to make the diagnosis and get the proper treatment, Egelman added.

As far as the spinach supply goes, Egelman and University Dining Services are willing to wait until it is absolutely safe to restock.

“Until we know all the details, neither [Finan] nor I will be interested in putting spinach on the menu,” he said with a chuckle. “Popeye would be mad, but we’re just fine with it.”