The 1,002 pounds of spinach from that 2.8-acre section was harvested on Monday, Aug. 14, and processed the next day by Natural Selection Foods, one of the nation's biggest processors of leafy greens. The spinach went mostly into bags of Dole Baby Spinach, each tagged with the production code P227A. It was shipped nationwide.
FDA and California investigators would later say that spinach from this small section of the Paicines Ranch most likely carried the deadly E. coli strain into the homes of unsuspecting consumers.
They were consumers such as Polly Costello, who on Monday, Aug. 21, bought a package of Dole Baby Spinach at No Frills Supermarket in Bellevue, Neb. She, her husband and her mother, Ruby Trautz, would eat spinach from the bag over the next few days.
By that Saturday, Trautz was sick with nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. On Sunday she began passing blood, and her daughter and son-in-law rushed her to Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha.
When a nurse examined her on Sunday, Aug. 27, Trautz was light-headed and in extreme pain. On Thursday, after five days of increasing weakness, Trautz began to hallucinate and have seizures. She died at 6:15 a.m. that day.
Her doctors had no idea what had killed her. It wasn't until Sept. 25 that tests on the spinach from her daughter's refrigerator showed she had been infected with E. coli O157:H7.
The second death came Sept. 7, a week after Trautz's, when 77-year-old Marion Graff of Manitowoc, Wis., succumbed to kidney disease. Graff had always been a healthful eater. "My mother would cover her plate in salad," says her daughter, Leah Duckworth.
A woman who'd blossomed with age, Graff was with friends on a bus trip to Minneapolis for a weekend of museums and theater when she lost consciousness.
Graff deteriorated so quickly that Duckworth, on vacation in Canada, couldn't get home in time. Her sister, Annie Banks, held the phone to their mother's ear and Graff said, "I love you, my little mommy. Now it's time." Their mother died about 90 minutes later.
Next was June Dunning who, even at 86, was "a very proper British lady" who made a point of leading a healthy life, says her son-in-law, Chuck Swartz. Dunning lived with Swartz and her daughter Corinne in Hagerstown, Md. She got sick Friday night, Sept. 1, several days after eating lightly steamed spinach from a Dole bag. True to her stiff-upper-lip nature, Dunning didn't bother her family about the pain.
The next morning Corinne went into Dunning's room "and found this huge bloody mess all over," Swartz says. Corinne took her mother straight to the hospital.
It wasn't until Wednesday, Sept. 6, that tests showed she had E. coli O157:H7. "I said, 'What's that? That sounds like something from Mars,' " her son-in-law says. "The infectious-disease doctor said it came from hamburger. We said, 'She doesn't eat hamburger; she loves vegetables.' " Dunning lasted for another week.
The fourth fatality was the youngest, 2-year-old Kyle Allgood of Chubbuck, Idaho. Kyle had been born at home before his mom and dad could make it to the hospital. "He was in a hurry coming into this world, and he was in a hurry to leave it," says his mother, Robyn Allgood.