Dining halls send back spinach

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

To the chagrin of vegetable lovers and E. coli viruses across campus, University Dining Services pulled spinach from Yale’s menu last week.

The change was made in response to a federal government warning that spinach may be responsible for an E. coli outbreak that has infected 109 people in 19 states, including Connecticut. Dining Services Executive Director Don McQuarrie said he does not know how long the ban on spinach — which has been replaced with other vegetables, such as broccoli and green beans — will remain in effect.

While there is no specific reason to believe Yale’s spinach was contaminated, McQuarrie said, all of the University’s stock has been returned to its vendors as a precaution. The change was also made to reassure students that their food is safe, he said.

“It makes sense to us to substitute for spinach for the foreseeable future so people will have confidence that there’s nothing wrong with the food supply,” McQuarrie said.

In a conversation with dining officials today, the vendors said they would quarantine and destroy the returned stock, McQuarrie said. Yale will receive credit from the vendors to pay for the losses.

E. coli is a diarrhea-causing bacteria that attacks the intestine. While most healthy adults recover within a week, the infection can lead to kidney damage and death in young children and the elderly. The outbreak has killed one person so far and caused 16 cases of kidney failure nationwide.

The Food and Drug Administration has released statements saying that an investigation into the outbreak is ongoing, but preliminary evidence points to fresh spinach as the culprit. The agency issued its first warning on Thursday.

“Given the severity of this illness and the seriousness of the outbreak, FDA believes that a warning to consumers is needed,” Dr. Robert Brackett, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a press release. “We are working closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local agencies to determine the cause and scope of the problem.”

McQuarrie said redesigning Yale’s menus and ordering replacements has been somewhat inconvenient, since spinach is present in a number of offerings, including sides, salads and entrees. Such Universitywide recalls are rare, he said, though Dining Services temporarily removed beef from the menu in response to an E. coli outbreak two years ago.

Affinities for spinach vary, but most students said they were glad that Yale is erring on the side of safety.

“I think spinach is better than iceberg [lettuce], but I don’t want to eat it if I’m going to get E. coli,” Lily Rothman ’08 said. “Just as long as they bring it back as soon as the danger has passed.”

Some students were less broken up about the change than others.

“I don’t particularly care, but I guess it will give my mom peace of mind that I won’t get E. coli while I’m down here,” Diana Calla ’09 said. “It’s best that they’re playing it safe.”

Signs have been posted in a number of dining halls to reassure students that the menus do not include spinach products.

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