As of Dec. 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the E. coli outbreak associated with romaine lettuce grown in the area of Salinas, Calif. had grown to 102 cases in 23 states. Although no deaths have been reported, this variety of E. coli infection is virulent with 58 people requiring hospitalization and 10 with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) kidney failure.
The CDC reports that infections linked to this outbreak were made known between Sept. 24 and Nov. 18. The CDC first announced the outbreak on Nov. 22.
In Texas, the number of cases has grown from 2 to 4. The largest number of cases are in the states of Wisconsin, which has 31, and Ohio, with 12. A map of cases can be found here.
The CDC continues to advise consumers to check the label on any romaine lettuce to find out where it was grown. Leafy greens producers voluntarily place a sticker on packages to show the growing region. Any romaine grown in the Salinas area should be thrown out or returned to the store. The same precaution applies to romaine that does not have a label sticker showing the growing area. Romaine grown hydroponically or in greenhouses is presumed safe to eat.
In restaurants, consumers should question servers about the origin of romaine when ordering items that may contain the lettuce, like salads and sandwiches. If the server cannot identify where their romaine comes from, do not order the item that contains it. The Salinas growing area includes the following counties: Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey counties in California.
On Dec. 4, the FDA released a statement saying that, “This remains an evolving and fluid situation.” With the help of staff from the California Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the FDA is actively investigating three farms that were identified based on traceback information. The investigators sampled soil and animal droppings, compost, water, and other potential environmental sources on the farms, according to the statement.
The CDC has noted that this outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, a Shiga-toxin or STEC strain of the disease, is the same as the one in leafy greens that caused illnesses in 2018 and 2017.
Symptoms of E. coli infection are diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Severe cases with long lasting or bloody diarrhea can require hospitalization. Symptoms of kidney involvement include inability to pass much urine, feeling very tired or irritable, losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids, bruising or a rash of tiny red spots on the skin, and decreased awareness.
Anyone can become infected, but persons most at risk are the very young and the very old, as well as anyone with a weak or compromised immune system. The CDC advises contacting your local health department if you are sick or think you may be infected.
The Texas Department of Health and Human Services is in Austin and can be reached at this tollfree number, 888-963-7111.
To follow the outbreak via the CDC, navigate to their outbreak webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/index.html
Copyright © 2019 Jani Hall Leuschel