A multi-state outbreak of E. coli poisoning linked to romaine lettuce appears to finally be over, and health officials indicate the source of the bacteria was likely tainted canal water.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a final update late last week, indicating that the outbreak of romaine lettuce e. coli 0157:H7 outbreak infected more than 210 people, across 36 states.
Overall, 96 people were hospitalized due to the food poisoning, which was caused by romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. Five deaths were reported, and nearly 30 people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious type of kidney failure associated with e. coli poisoning.
CDC laboratory testing identified the E. coli strain in samples of canal water in the Yuma area. The FDA is now investigating how the bacteria entered the water and tainted the romaine lettuce. Samples are being processed from soil, other water sources, and cow manure.
During the initial investigation, the FDA determined the outbreak couldn’t be traced back to a single grower, harvester, processor, or distributor. Instead, it affected multiple supply chains leading officials to test a common water source.
The Yuma growing region is known as the “Winter Lettuce Capital of the World.” It grows 90% of all leafy greens consumed in the U.S. between November and March. However, due to its rich soil from the Colorado River sediment it is also a growing hub for more than 175 crops, including lemons, melons, and dates.
The illnesses began March 13, 2018, and the last illness was reported June 6, 2018. Officials indicated this outbreak caused an unusually high number of people to require hospitalization.
Not all of the people who became ill had eaten tainted romaine lettuce. Some had close contact with people who had eaten the tainted romaine lettuce. However, the CDC indicates the multi-state outbreak is finally over.
The Public Health Agency of Canada also identified people in several Canadian provinces sickened by the romaine lettuce who were infected with the same DNA fingerprint of E. coli bacteria. Officials in Canada indicate the Canadian outbreak also appears to be over.
People sickened by the outbreak ranged in age from 1 to 88 years. However, 67% were female.
The last shipments of affected romaine lettuce from Yuma were harvested on April 16, 2018, then the harvest season ended. Health officials indicate contaminated lettuce from this outbreak should no longer be available in stores.
The CDC emphasized the best way to avoid illness from bacteria outbreaks such as this is to thoroughly cook meat, wash hands vigorously after using the restroom, changing diapers, before and after preparing food, and when coming into contact with animals.