About E. coli

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Outbreak News

E. coli poisoning drastically changed her plans

Jennifer Kern

Staff Writer

Gail Rychlicki, of Ham Lake, had big plans for the first weekend of October. She and her husband, Ron, had scheduled to attend their niece’s wedding in Wisconsin and Gail had been looking forward to a weekend of celebration.

It wasn’t meant to be, however.

Rychlicki did spend the weekend away from her home — she was admitted to Fairview Hospital in Wyoming for E.coli disease symptoms.

Salad as the suspect

Rychlicki is one of 23 people in the Twin Cities who have been confirmed to have contracted E.coli after consuming specific lettuce purchased at Rainbow Foods stores.

The Minnesota Department of Health has been investigating the consumption of a particular shipment of Dole prepackaged salads, believed to have triggered the E.coli outbreak.

The shipment in question were salads that had a “Best If Used by 09/23/05” date and were one of three Dole varieties: Classic Romaine, American Blend or Greener Selection.

Rychlicki had purchased the Classic Romaine salad at the Rainbow Foods location in Forest Lake, which she and her husband had for dinner one evening. Days later, both showed symptoms.

“Actually, my husband is the one who got sick first,” said Rychlicki. Believing the stomach cramps to be the precursor to the flu, she decided to have another salad for lunch.

By Friday, Sept. 30, Rychlicki said the pain in her stomach was unbearable. She called a hospital nurse phone line to describe her symptoms and was encouraged to visit the emergency room.

Excited to travel out-of-town though, Rychlicki was reluctant to see a doctor.

“I thought I’d get it out of my system and then go to the wedding,” she recalled.

As her condition worsened on Saturday however, she knew she had to cancel her plans.

When Rychlicki first arrived at the hospital, she noted her pain had reached its peak.

“(The hospital staff) basically couldn’t even touch my stomach,” Rychlicki explained.

Her case was so severe in fact, she underwent a colonoscopy and had to stay in the hospital for five days. She wasn’t released until Thursday, Oct. 6.

Tracing the orgin

Rychlicki was diagnosed with E.coli disease and due to outbreaks across the Twin Cities, hospital staff were able to quickly trace her condition to the lettuce she had purchased.

“When they told me I had E.coli, then they asked me if I had eaten lettuce,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suspected the Dole salad as well when they contacted Rychlicki and asked her to confirm her lettuce purchase date.

“The CDC wanted me to go back and get my receipt,” she recalled.

During Rychlicki’s hospital stay, Dole, Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc., (owner of Rainbow Foods) and the Minnesota Department of Health all issued press releases warning others of the E.coli risk with the salads.

“Our primary concern was and continues to be the safety of our shoppers and the confidence they have in the products we carry, so we conducted a thorough search of all of our stores for the affected product.” said Robert A. Mariano, CEO of Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc., in its release. “But by that time the product with those code dates had already been sold or removed from our shelves.”

Solving the puzzle

Rychlicki was surprised to learn that her salad was the cause of her hospitalization. Though she admits that she had ate it shortly after the “Best If Used By” date, Rychlicki mentioned she is normally very picky about expiration dates and that to her the lettuce’s condition looked fine.

“We hadn’t opened (the bag) yet, so it preserves better,” she explained.

She believes others were affected as well, unknowingly.

“I think a lot of people got sick and didn’t even know it,” Rychlicki added.

In her case, she figures her multiple servings of the lettuce made her situation worse.

“Ron actually began having a bad stomach on Monday, Sept. 26, which lasted for a good two days. I think because I ate the lettuce twice within a few days, that’s what did me in,’ said Rychlicki.

She credits her doctor as well as the staff at Fairview though for the care she received during her stay at the hospital.

“The hospital’s general - surgery second floor nursing staff were all so caring, friendly, and professional,” she complimented.

Looking back on the experience, Rychlicki mentioned she is going to be much more selective when it comes to lettuce preparation.

“First of all, I’m going to buy the vegetable wash that restaurants use. I’m going to wash everything,” Rychlicki vowed.

She also questions the placement of the Dole salads’ “Best If Used By” date on the bags.

When doctors tried to determine the cause of her E.coli contraction, Rychlicki was dismayed to find that she was unable to recover the date from her salad. She had ripped it off when she had first opened the bag.

“I think it’s odd that the date is on the top,” she said.

Which is why Rychlicki was particularly pleased that she was able to recover her receipt for the purchase, to help determine the exact type of lettuce she had consumed.

“Having the receipt helped to pin point the actual “sell by” date of the lettuce according to when stores stock certain items,” Rychlicki clarified. “After all, even though I only cut off the top of the bag, many people empty their bagged lettuce and store it in another container; thus having no personal trace to public food poisoning outbreaks and the like.”

More on this outbreak: Dole Lettuce E. coli Outbreak

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