Thanksgiving is here and another E. coli Infections is linked to romaine lettuceThe CDC, FDA, and public health officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infection linked to romaine lettuce harvested in the Salinas area in California. As a result, like last year, romaine lettuce will be absent from the Thanksgiving table.
The CDC advises consumers to void all types of romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and packages of precut lettuce and salad mixes, which contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.
On November 18, the Maryland Department of Health reported the investigation of a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in seven patients in Maryland. All seven consumers reported eating Ready Pac Bistro® Bowl Chicken Caesar Salad purchased from various Sam’s Club locations in Maryland. One unopened salad that had been purchased by one of the patients identified in the outbreak was tested, and the presence of E. coli O157 was detected in the salad’s romaine lettuce.
On November 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that Missa Bay, recalled approximately 97,272 pounds of salad products that contain meat or poultry because the lettuce ingredient may be contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. The salad product items were produced from October 14, 2019, through October 16, 2019. The items were shipped to distribution locations in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Two days after the first 17 E. coli illnesses in eight states were reported and just one day after the Missa Bay, recalled 50 tons of salad products, the CDC announced that a total of 40 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 16 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin). Twenty-eight people were hospitalized, and five people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. No deaths have been reported.
WGS showed that the E. coli strain in romaine lettuce tested by the Maryland Department of Health is closely related genetically to the E. coli found in sick people in this outbreak. The romaine lettuce was harvested from the Salinas, California growing region.
FDA and states are tracing the source of the romaine lettuce eaten by ill people. Preliminary information indicates that some of the ill people ate lettuce grown in Salinas. No common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified. In the current outbreak, the same strain of E. coli O157: H7 was found as the one linked to previous outbreaks.
In a statement issued by the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (LGMA), Scott Horsfall, CEO said: “No one is more frustrated than the producers of leafy greens that outbreaks continue to be associated with our products.” Dan Sutton, a farmer from Oceano, CA said “We are devastated as a leafy greens community when this happens. Our thoughts go to those affected by this outbreak. But that’s why we want to continue to work with governmental agencies to learn why this is happening so that we can improve.”
All the outbreaks connected to romaine lettuce have triggered the FDA to begin testing romaine lettuce for the presence of pathogenic E. coli and salmonella. The purpose of the FDA study is to identify sources of contamination and factors that may be contributing to them. Neither the FDA nor the industry has been able to determine exactly where all the outbreaks occurred, or how the romaine lettuce became contaminated. The testing program, which will continue until November 2020, is intended to help identify the cause of contaminated romaine lettuce. The agency will take 270 samples throughout the year, increasing the frequency during the spring and fall, when foodborne illness outbreaks associated with romaine lettuce consumption have most frequently occurred. Sampling will only include raw romaine lettuce before it is commingled during fresh-cut processing