Chopped Romaine Lettuce Unsafe? Multistate E. Coli Outbreak Linked To Vegetable

Alicia Farmer
April 16, 2018

Twenty-six (93%) of 28 people interviewed reported consuming romaine lettuce in the week before their illness started. Last year, an outbreak of 17 E. coli infections were reported in 13 states across the United States, all of which occurred from November 15, 2017 through December 8, 2017. There are also four Montana cases suspected to be part of the outbreak and further testing is pending. The Produce Marketing Association, Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, United Fresh and Western Growers released a statement on the outbreak, and reassured consumers that almost all romaine lettuce now being harvested and shipped throughout the U.S.is from the California growing areas.

Health officials have confirmed E. coli cases in Missoula, Flathead, and Ravalli counties, including three hospitalizations.

Since the outbreak began in late March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tallied a total of 35 infections across 11 states, including three cases of kidney failure.

Symptoms of E. coli infection vary for each person, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting. Some people may have a low fever, less than 101°F/38.5°C. People in the previous outbreak were infected with a different DNA fingerprint of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. About 5 to 10% of people diagnosed with this illness develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.

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Health officials warned the public to stay away from chopped romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the chopped lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away. The restaurants said they used bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make the salads.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2012 California farmers contributed the following amounts of leafy green product to the USA supply including 77% of romaine lettuce, 71% of iceberg lettuce and 66% of spinach. That's all the information the United States of America agency gives in that regard as it adds, "no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand has been identified". Cases of illness showing E. coli symptoms have been reported in Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington. The CDC investigation is ongoing to identify the source of the contamination. There is no information to indicate that whole head romaine lettuce or hearts of romaine are involved in this outbreak.

The FDA recommends that consumers ask restaurants and other food service establishments where their romaine lettuce originated, and avoid chopped romaine lettuce that originated from Yuma, Arizona.

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