Federal health officials indicate that a multi-state food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce appears to be over, with a recently released update indicating that all impacted products are believed to have been removed from store shelves and circulation.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a final romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak update this week, stating that the nearly three month long investigation to determine the source of the contamination is believed to be over, following dozens of illnesses across 16 states.
The romaine lettuce food poisoning cases were first recognized by CDC officials in November 2018. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, health officials warned consumers everywhere to stop eating romaine lettuce, throw away any they have on hand, and thoroughly sanitize areas where it was stored, since investigators were continuing to trace the exact source of the outbreak as Americans were preparing for family gatherings.
By the time the CDC first issued warnings, at least 32 cases of E. coli infection had been reported, which resulted in 13 hospitalizations in the United States, with at least another 18 people in Ontario and Quebec falling ill with the same strain of E. coli.
Preliminary investigations by the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials pinpointed romaine lettuce products as the likely source of contamination due to the similarity of the DNA fingerprint to previous leafy green outbreaks.
After more than a month of traceback investigations and sampling strains of E. coli in sickened consumers, officials were able to identify the source of the contamination on December 20, 2018, by discovering a similar strain of E. coli in a sediment sample collected from an agricultural water reservoir on Adams Bros Farming Inc., farm in Santa Maria, California where romaine lettuce products were grown and distributed nationwide.
By the time the source of contamination was discovered, 59 people across 15 states had fallen ill with E. coli, resulting in at least 23 hospitalizations. Two of those hospitalized developed a type of kidney failure from the infection that can cause severe adverse health consequences.
E. coli is a foodborne bacteria that causes mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps, bloody stools, and sometimes minor fevers lasting between five and 10 days. For individuals like young children, the sick and the elderly, the consequences may be more severe due to weakened immune systems, potentially resulting in the infection causing a serious condition known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which may lead to kidney failure or even death.
By January 9, 2019, officials reported a total of 62 illnesses related to the outbreak were reported across 16 states and the District of Columbia. Due to the last illness being reported on December 4, and the shelf life of impacted romaine lettuce products, officials believe all potentially contaminated products are no longer available to consumers.
The agencies are advising consumers to always wash their hands after using restrooms, before and after preparing or eating foods and to always thoroughly clean cooking utensils and food preparation surfaces. For more instructions and safety tips on how to prevent the spread of contamination, consumers may visit the CDC’s E. coli and food safety site.