Apr 16, 2018
Produce groups comment on E. coli breakout linked to lettuce

After the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a connection between a multi-state E. coli outbreak and romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, leading industry groups issued a response.

In a joint statement, the Produce Marketing Association, Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, United Fresh and Western Growers said they were cooperating fully with government and working closely to further identify the specific source of this outbreak.

“Specifically, government officials are advising consumers not to consume chopped, bagged romaine grown in Yuma. At this time, this advisory only applies to chopped, bagged romaine, not other forms of romaine such as whole heads or hearts,” the groups said.

“This advisory also does not apply to romaine grown elsewhere, including California. Consumers may check with their retailer and/or restaurant to assist them in identifying product origin.

“Nearly all of the romaine lettuce now being harvested and shipped throughout the United States is from California growing areas, and is not implicated in the outbreak.”

They said the leafy greens community took the responsibility for producing fresh produce “very seriously”.

“Leafy greens food-safety programs in both California and Arizona are the most rigorous in today’s produce industry,” the groups said.

“Both programs include mandatory farm food safety practices, and frequent government audits to ensure those practices are being followed.”

According to the CDC:

“As of April 12, 2018, 35 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 11 states. A list of the states and the number of cases in each can be found on the Case Count Map page. Illnesses started on dates ranging from March 22, 2018 to March 31, 2018. Ill people range in age from 12 to 84 years, with a median age of 29. Sixty-nine percent of ill people are female. Twenty-two ill people have been hospitalized, including three people who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses that occurred after March 27, 2018, might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of two to three weeks.

The current outbreak is not related to a recent multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to leafy greens. People in the previous outbreak were infected with a different DNA fingerprint of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.

Investigation update

Epidemiologic evidence collected to date indicates that chopped romaine lettuce is the likely source of this outbreak. Twenty-six (93 percent) of 28 people interviewed reported consuming romaine lettuce in the week before their illness started. This percentage is significantly higher than results from a survey[787 KB] of healthy people in which 46 percent reported eating romaine lettuce in the week before they were interviewed. Most people reported eating a salad at a restaurant, and romaine lettuce was the only common ingredient identified among the salads eaten. The restaurants reported using bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make salads. At this time, ill people are not reporting whole heads or hearts of romaine.

Traceback investigations are ongoing to determine the source of chopped romaine lettuce supplied to restaurant locations where ill people ate. At this time, no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand has been identified. However, preliminary information indicates that the chopped romaine lettuce was from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.

Information collected to date indicates that chopped romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region could be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and could make people sick. Read CDC’s advice to consumers, restaurants, and retailers.

This investigation is ongoing, and CDC will provide more information as it becomes available.





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