For several months, it was impossible to purchase romaine lettuce or any products containing romaine due to a multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to the product. Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the outbreak appears to be over.
According to the CDC, 62 people were infected with the E. coli strain in 16 states and the District of Columbia. The agency reported that they identified the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in sediment collected in an agricultural reservoir located on a Santa Barbara County farm. In addition to romaine, the CDC advised that all red and green leaf lettuce along with cauliflower not be eaten, sold or served. No deaths were reported during the outbreak, but 25 people were hospitalized. Two of them developed kidney failure as a result of the infection.
About E. coli
According to the CDC, Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli, is an emerging cause of foodborne illness. E. coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the naturally occurring bacteria. Most strains are harmless and exist in the intestines of healthy humans or animals. But this strain produces a powerful toxin that can lead to serious illness. The strain was discovered in 1982 during an outbreak of bloody diarrhea and the bacteria was traced to contaminated hamburgers. Since then, most infections from this strain of E. coli have come from eating undercooked ground beef.
However, contamination can also occur if other foods are touched by water that contains the organism. It can also be spread if hand-washing is inadequate among those who are touching raw meat with the bacteria.
Symptoms of E. coli Infection
People infected with this strain of E. coli may have severe abdominal cramps and could experience bloody diarrhea, although it’s possible to have non-bloody diarrhea with this infection. There’s usually no fever, and in health individuals, the illness clears in five to 10 days.
In children under the age of five or the elderly, a complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome can occur. This condition destroys red blood cells and can cause kidney failure. This is a life-threatening condition that’s often treated in the intensive care unit. Blood transfusions and kidney dialysis may be necessary, and death can occur in 3 to 5 percent of cases.
Although the outbreak appears to be over, the FDA has recommended that growers label any romaine lettuce with the harvest location and the date it was harvested. Consumers should check those labels or should look for signs in stores when there is no labeled lettuce available.
Restaurants are advised to clean and sanitize food contact surfaces frequently. They should also wash and sanitize display cases, refrigerators, cutting boards and utensils often. Frequent hand washing can also help fight the spread of E. coli. Consumers should also wash hands, utensils and surfaces with hot, soapy water, and all produce should be rinsed in clean, running water.