Federal health officials say they have identified the source of a recent romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak, which has sickened at least dozens of people nationwide, indicating that the contaminated lettuce products were grown throughout the coastal and central California regions.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated Food Safety Alert this week, warning retailers and consumers to stop eating and selling romaine lettuce harvested from the certain regions of California, after new laboratory testing has confirmed similar strains of E. coli found in sickened patients.
A massive romaine lettuce recall was first announced just before Thanksgiving, after officials confirmed 32 cases of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in 11 different states, including at least 13 reports involving hospitalizations and one severe case that resulted in kidney failure. Canadian health officials also reported another 18 people in Ontario and Quebec have fallen ill with the same strain of E. coli.
Preliminary epidemiologic investigations by the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had identified romaine lettuce products are the likely source of contamination, with 79 percent of those who have become ill reported eating romaine lettuce products within several days of becoming sick. Officials stated this particular strain of E. coli has a very similar DNA fingerprint as the E. coli strain isolated from ill people in a 2017 outbreak linked to leafy greens.
Romaine lettuce products impacted by the outbreak include whole heads of romaine lettuce, hearts of romaine, bags, boxes and precut lettuce and mixed salads that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix and Caesar salad.
Investigators report that the strain of E. coli is linked to the romaine lettuce grown in Central Coastal growing regions of Northern and Central California. Consumers and retailers are being warned to check their romaine lettuce products before any further consumption or sale.
The CDC also announced that lettuce products will be marked with a label identifying a harvest location by region. If the lettuce is marked with one of the impacted regions it should be properly discarded. If the location of the products are unknown, officials are urging customers to discard the products to avoid further contamination and illness.
Since the initial outbreak announcement, officials have received a total of 65 confirmed illnesses in 12 states and Canada that have resulted in 16 hospitalizations.
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.
With several leafy green outbreaks over the last two years, FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, stated the industry has voluntarily agree to begin labeling the region in which their romaine lettuce was grown as well as the date after which it was harvested. Gottlieb further stated the labeling practices may be extended to other leafy greens that can be difficult to identify during the time of an outbreak.