Resolved E coli Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce
Grant M. Gallagher
While the outbreak appears to be over, health officials are alerting the public and encouraging continued improvement of industry practices.
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials are informing the public of a recent Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak likely associated with romaine lettuce. Shiga toxin-producing E coli O157:H7 can sometimes lead to serious complications such as severe diarrhea and kidney damage.
As of November 1, 2019, 23 confirmed illnesses were associated with the outbreak. Illnesses initiated on dates ranging from July 12, 2019 to September 8, 2019. There were no illnesses reported after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began its investigation on September 17, 2019. In total, 12 states were affected.
The outbreak was investigated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA, but is believed to be over at this time. CDC notified the FDA of the E coli related illness cluster in mid-September 2019 and a traceback investigation was promptly initiated. The FDA, CDC, and local partners investigated the illnesses associated with the outbreak. Among the 23 illnesses associated with the outbreak, 11 individuals were hospitalized but no deaths were reported.
Public health investigators visited farms located in the central coast region of California which were identified through the traceback investigation. CDC reports collecting many environmental samples from the farms; however, the outbreak strain was not identified.
The investigation did not identify a common source or point where contamination occurred, but investigators believe romaine lettuce is likely the cause of the outbreak. Because the outbreak strain was not detected in environmental samples and no new cases have been identified since September 8, 2019, CDC believes the outbreak to be over.
The FDA is communicating details about the outbreak to facilitate public awareness and highlight the importance of industry actions to ensure the safety of leafy greens, but they do not believe there is an ongoing risk to public health. The FDA does not recommend that consumers avoid the consumption of leafy greens at this time.
In a statement on the matter, the FDA reaffirmed their commitment to improving the safety of leafy greens and traceability from farm to fork. FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas asserted that the investigation, in addition to previous outbreaks associated with romaine lettuce, “reinforces the recommendations that we have made to the leafy green industry: producers must continue to review their practices and improve traceability to enhance food safety.”
Yiannas further stated that “all levels of government and the supply chain from farm to retail must continue to work together to keep consumers safe.”