New E.Coli Outbreak in Romaine Lettuce
By Nora Hogan
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Chestnuts are roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost is nipping at your nose . . . and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention just issued its now annual warning to not eat any romaine lettuce this holiday season. On November 22nd, the C.D.C. released a statement detailing this most recent E.coli outbreak, which originated from lettuce grown from Salinas, California. The outbreak includes all types of romaine lettuce grown in this region, including prepackaged salads, whole heads of romaine and romaine hearts. 40 people in 16 states have been affected so far and at least 28 people have been hospitalized, since Sept. 24, according to the New York Times. The largest number of cases was reported in Wisconsin, with 10 cases. However, cases have also been reported in Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.
This year’s strain is the same that has caused other E.coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce and leafy greens in the past two years, the C.D.C. said. The culprit, E.coli O157: H7, produces a type of toxin that causes painful cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. 5 to 10 percent of people infected with this strain develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Young children under 5 years, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are the most likely to be affected by this complication if infected with the strain, according to the C.D.C. Although no deaths have been reported as of yet, at least five people have been reported to have developed this condition.
Swift action is being taken across government agencies to put an end to the contamination. More than 75,000 pounds of prepackaged salads from the New Jersey-based company Missa Bay is being recalled by the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety and Inspection Service, as there is evidence to suggest that the lettuce is contaminated with E.coli. The Food and Drug Administration has sent investigators to farms in Salinas to look for the source of contamination. Thankfully, the recalled products have “used by” dates ranging from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, so this voluntary recall most likely does not affect any products currently on store shelves, according to the C.D.C. Consumers are advised to avoid purchasing or eating romaine lettuce from Salinas until the contamination has been eliminated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a list of 35 recalled products, including brands such as Bonduelle Chef Salad, Marketside Bistro, Signature Cafe and Signature farms.
Convenience salads, like bags of pre washed spinach and chopped romaine, are often struck by outbreaks of foodborne illness. For instance, last year’s romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak became the largest E.coli outbreak in more than a decade, affecting more than 200 people total and killing five in three dozen states. Experts say that this type of product is at greater risk of contamination because it comes in contact with a large amount of people and machinery. Anything from unwashed farm workers’ hands to flooding of contaminated water in low-lying fields can result in a whole crop being contaminated. After being picked, the greens are moved to a packaging plant, resulting in increased exposure from more workers and equipment. Because products from multiple farms are often packaged in the same facility, the odds of cross-contamination increase even further.