A multi-state E.coli food poisoning outbreak believed to be linked to chopped romaine lettuce has sickened at least 35 people across 11 states, resulting in nearly two dozen hospitalizations.
The chopped romaine lettuce E.coli O157:H7 outbreak was announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on April 13, following reported illnesses across 11 states. To date, no fatalities have been reported.
According to CDC investigators, certain romaine lettuce products grown in the Yuma, Arizona region could be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, which is a foodborne illness that can cause serious and sometimes fatal adverse health consequences for the elderly, pregnant women, or those with weakened immune systems.
Of the 35 consumer illnesses reported, 22 people have been hospitalized and at least three people have developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. To date, illnesses have been reported in Washington, Idaho, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey and Virginia.
The CDC and the FDA began receiving illness reports on March 22. Investigators opened a formal investigation, and officials began performing traceback investigations and testing of E. coli strains to determine whether the strains were related.
Epidemiologic evidence collected indicates that chopped romaine lettuce is likely the source of the outbreak, with 93 percent of sickened individuals having reported consuming romaine lettuce in the week prior to their illness onset. Most of the individuals reported eating chopped romaine lettuce in salads at restaurants or from bagged salad products at grocery stores.
Officials are still trying to determine which supplier shipped lettuce to the restaurants and grocery stores linked to the illnesses. At this time, no grower, distributor, or supplier has been identified, however, preliminary reports indicate that there is a strong possibility the contaminated products were grown and shipped from the Yuma, Arizona region.
The CDC and FDA are encouraging people who have store-bought chopped romaine lettuce at home, including salads and salad mixes containing chopped romaine lettuce not to eat it and properly discard the products. Customers purchasing lettuce products at grocery stores should confirm with the store managers that the lettuce products were not grown in the Yuma, Arizona region.
Restaurants and retailers are being warned to not sell any chopped romaine lettuce or salad mixed products containing romaine lettuce to consumers.
At least one lawsuit has been filed in the United States District Court in New Jersey naming Freshway Foods, Inc. and Panera, LLC as defendants after New Jersey resident Louise Fraser consumed chopped romaine lettuce at a Panera restaurant in Raritan, New Jersey and became ill. The complaint indicates that Fraser began developing E. coli symptoms just three days after consumption, which ultimately resulted in her being hospitalized and diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of acute kidney failure, requiring multiple blood transfusions.
E. coli is a foodborne bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and animals and can become pathogenic causing severe bowel pain and diarrhea when exposed outside of the human intestinal tract. The bacteria are commonly transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals and infected persons.
Symptoms of E. coli typically involve mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps, bloody stools, and sometimes minor fevers lasting between five and 10 days. Individuals such as young children or the sick and elderly may be affected more because of a weakened immune system, which could also increase the severity of the illness.