CDC Won’t Reveal Sources of E. coli-Tainted Lettuce

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) won’t reveal the sources of E. coli-tainted lettuce that led to a multi-state outbreak late last year.

According to The Packer, the CDC refuses to name the grower and distributors involved in the outbreak, although it did make its report public this month. The report can be accessed here.

The report repeated prior findings that the nine-state outbreak was due to tainted romaine lettuce that sickened 58 people, said The Packer. The CDC previously reported that 60 people had been sickened. No deaths were linked to the outbreak; however, several of those who were sickened required hospitalization. “Two cases were removed from the case count because advanced molecular testing determined that they were not related to this outbreak strain,” the final CDC report states, wrote The Packer. Aside from reducing the number of those who fell ill in the outbreak, the CDC’s final report provided no significant new information.

CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials previously said they could not name the grocery retailer, foodservice processors/distributors, or grower because investigations had not proven from where the contamination took place, said The Packer. In December, Lola Russell, CDC spokeswoman, said it leaves that sort of announcement to regulatory agencies, such as the FDA.

At that time, Sebastian Cianci, FDA policy analyst and press officer, said the farm where the romaine was grown was “no longer in production when the FDA went to conduct an investigation. Preliminary findings at the farm did not identify the source of contamination. FDA did sample and test various brands of romaine lettuce, but did not find the outbreak strain,” he said, wrote The Packer. It was traceback investigations and patient interviews, said the FDA and CDC, that implicated the romaine, said The Packer.

“Traceback analysis determined that a single lot of romaine lettuce harvested from one farm was used to supply the grocery store chain locations, as well as university campuses in Minnesota and Missouri where illnesses were also reported,” said Cianci in December. “We know the farm from which the lettuce was harvested but have not named it because we do not know whether or not it was the source of contamination, and we don’t want to suggest that we are implicating a specific member in the supply chain when, in fact, we are still trying to determine where in the supply chain the contamination occurred,” he added, said The Packer.

As of March 29, the FDA did not issue an update on its investigation and FDA officials did not immediately respond to The Packer’s questions about the status of the outbreak.

We previously wrote that the outbreak was initially linked to Schnucks salad bars and that an overwhelming majority of those who fell ill with E. coli infections reportedly ate salad bar items at a number of Schnucks salad bars, according to John Shelton, county health spokesman. Later, the outbreak was potentially linked to grocery produce. Schnucks Markets then announced that some contaminated romaine was sold in its grocery store chain’s salad bars; however, the CDC said the lettuce was tainted before it was sent to Schnucks.

E. coli is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea; dehydration; and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors, and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to develop an infection from food borne pathogens.

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