A recent Romaine lettuce food poisoning outbreak, which sickened dozens of people nationwide, has been traced back to a California farms water supply used to irrigate growing fields.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a Food Safety Alert on December 13, announcing that investigators have determined that a contaminated reservoir was the cause of the multi-state E. coli outbreak, which resulted in the recall for all romaine lettuce right before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The romaine lettuce outbreak first surfaced on November 20, following at least 32 reports of individuals becoming ill with E. coli O157:H7 in 11 states, including at least 13 cases that resulted in hospitalization. Since then, at least another 27 reports have surfaced, bringing the total number of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce to 59 across 15 different states, including at least 23 hospitalizations. Of those sickened, two individuals have developed a type of kidney failure that can cause severe adverse health consequences.
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. This resulted in federal health warnings right before Thanksgiving, that urged consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce products.
After nearly a month of traceback investigations, officials believe they may have identified the source of the contamination. The strain of E. coli was discovered in a sediment sample collected from an agricultural water reservoir on Adam Bros Farming Inc., farm in Santa Maria, California.
The CDC’s warns consumers and retailers to stop selling and consuming romaine lettuce harvested from the Monterey, San Benito or Santa Barbara, California. The warning applies to all types of romaine lettuce including whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.
Despite the recent findings, officials announced the E. coli strains found in the reservoir do not explain all of the illnesses reported in relation to the recall, indicating additional romaine lettuce products grown on other farms or handled by other distributors could also be implicated in the recall.
FDA and CDC officials are continuing to investigate all possible sources of the outbreak and will provide updates as more information becomes available.
For now, customers are encouraged to discard any romaine lettuce products grown or distributed from the impacted California region. Romaine products where the source is unknown should be discarded out of an abundance of caution to avoid further illness.
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.