‘E. coli’ Outbreak Linked to California Romaine Lettuce, According to CDC

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning for Americans regarding all romaine lettuce. The recommended course of action is to throw away, avoid and clean surfaces that have come in contact with any romaine lettuce following its linkage to E. coli.

32 people have been infected by the outbreak strain of the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Reports come from 32 cases across 11 states, but there have been no reported deaths. The outbreak-affected states include California, Michigan, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.

According to the CDC, the symptoms of an E. coli infection include “severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.” The symptoms of STEC usually present within two through eight days of contact with the germ and can cause kidney failure. In the Canadian provinces Ontario and Quebec, 18 people have reported outbreak-related illness by the same E. coli strain.

“The agency is taking steps to improve our response times and provide actionable information to consumers as quickly as possible. We are also looking at our regulatory options and considering appropriate enforcement actions against companies and farms that grow, pack, or process fresh lettuce and leafy greens under unsanitary conditions… I remain committed to investing in the [Food and Drug Administration]’s food program and applying our food safety expertise as we work to better safeguard the U.S. food supply. We want food to be safe because it promotes the American industries that grow and produce these products. That’s part of our dedication to these efforts. But first and foremost, we pursue food safety measures as key parts of our public health mandate to protect American consumers,” said U.S. Food and Drug Administrator Scott Gottlieb in a statement.

Courtesy: WGN-TV


In an update earlier in the week, the CDC stated that there was no identified supplier or distributor but advised that consumers “not eat any romaine lettuce, and restaurants and retailers not sell any, until [they] learn more about this outbreak and the source of the contaminated lettuce.”

However, in a more recent development, there has been news that the source of the contaminated lettuce appears to be from California. In a tweet, Gottlieb wrote that the outbreak is likely linked to the area “based on growing and harvesting patterns” and that “new romaine from different growing regions, including Florida and Arizona, will soon be harvested.” In reference to actions on a going forward basis, Gottlieb added that the FDA is “working with growers and distributors on labeling produce for location and harvest date and possibly other ways of informing consumers that the product is ‘post-purge.’”

Many farmers have been quick to criticize the CDC for the broad stroke warning applied following the outbreak, worrying about how the ban on romaine lettuce will impact sales and produce reputation. “It would’ve been nice if they could trace what region it came from instead of doing what they did,” said Paul Sellew, founder of lettuce-growing Little Leaf Farm. “It should have been a little more thoughtfully enacted as to not unnecessarily scare the public. But they have to protect them, so I understand why they did it.”

Only time will tell, following the testing from a variety of growing regions, what the immediate future for romaine lettuce will hold. This is not the first outreach to affect the leafy green, so the CDC is under the country’s watchful eye in the coming days for the results and actions taken to maintain farmers’ and retailers’ livelihoods and to keep consumers safe.