Federal investigators have confirmed that 19 cases of E. coli food poisoning across the Midwest were caused by shredded romaine lettuce that was tainted, and say the source may be an Arizona grower.
The romaine lettuce food poisoning update was issued yesterday by FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in response to a Freshway Foods romaine lettuce recall issued last week. Officials said they have confirmed that the strain of E. coli O145 detected in an unopened bag of Freshway Foods shredded romaine lettuce is the same strain that has sickened 19, and hospitalized 12.
However, another romaine lettuce recall has been announced by Andrew Smith Co., in Spreckels, California, due contamination by what Ohio health officials say is a different strain E. coli O145 than that affecting the Freshway lettuce, meaning the two recalls currently appear to be unrelated.
Smith is recalling 1,000 cartons of romaine lettuce, totaling about 23,000 pounds, according to a story by the Columbia Dispatch. Like the Freshway Foods romaine lettuce recall announced last week, the lettuce was sold to restaurants and food service outlets; not directly to consumers.
No illnesses have been connected to the Andrew Smith romaine lettuce contamination, but the E. coli tainted Freshway Foods lettuce has caused illnesses in Michigan, Ohio and New York, FDA reports. There have been 19 confirmed E. coli food poisoning cases, and there are additional reported illnesses that have not been confirmed, but are suspected. Three of the 12 people hospitalized face potentially life-threatening complications from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure and brain damage.
The FDA update says that attempts to track the source of the E. coli contamination of Freshway Foods romaine lettuce have led to a farm in Yuma, Arizona, where the lettuce was harvested. Investigators have not yet confirmed that the farm is the source of the contamination, however. The discovery has caused a third company, Vaughan Foods of Moore, Oklahoma, to also recall some romaine lettuce distributed with “use by” dates of May 9 and May 10, which was also sold only to restaurants and food service facilities.
The recall affects shredded romaine lettuce with a use by date of May 12 or earlier, which was sold under the Freshway Foods or Imperial Sysco labels to food service outlets, wholesalers, and in-store retail salad bars and delis. The lettuce was distributed throughout Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Escherichia coli O145 is a bacterial strain that can cause diarrhea which is frequently bloody. While most healthy adults recover within a few weeks from E. coli poisoning, young children and the elderly could be at risk for more severe illness. If the toxin enters the blood stream, E. coli could also lead to HUS.