Romaine Lettuce Linked To E. coli Outbreak

Romaine lettuce has been linked to an E. coli outbreak that was centered in Missouri and spread to nine other states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The romaine lettuce came from one farm.

To date, 60 people have fallen ill in the outbreak that began in October and ended last month. No deaths were reported, but 30 people required hospitalization; two people developed severe kidney disease, said Bloomberg Businessweek.
Illnesses were reported in Missouri (37), Illinois (9), Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Nebraska. The CDC, which said that the median age of victims was between one and 94 and was mostly female, noted that the contaminated food was most probably consumed between October 4 and October 24.

We previously wrote that the outbreak had been 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 Schnuck salad bars, according to John Shelton, county health spokesman. Later, the outbreak was potentially linked to grocery produce and St. Louis County health officials confirmed that the E. coli O157 strain involved is food borne.

Schnuck Markets Inc. just announced that some contaminated romaine lettuce was sold in its grocery store chain’s salad bars; however, the CDC said the lettuce was tainted before it was sent to Schnucks, said Businessweek, which added that the CDC did not name the supplier. “What they’re telling us is they have tracked it back to one particular farm,” Schnucks spokeswoman Lori Willis said. Schnucks and CDC did not provide the location of the farm, according to Schnuks.

According to the CDC, the outbreak is over and consumers can safely eat lettuce from Schnucks or elsewhere, said Businessweek, which noted that the Centers’ report did not indicate the number of illnesses linked to people who dined at Schnucks salad bars, but did state that most of those initially interviewed were associated with nine locations for “grocery store Chain A,” Businessweek reported. Schnucks confirmed it was that chain.

Public health investigators utilized DNA “fingerprints” derived from stool samples to identify cases and he CDC said the romaine lettuce involved came from “a single lettuce processing facility and from one distributor, said Businessweek. This means, noted Buinessweek, that contamination most probably took place before the product “reached grocery store Chain A locations.”

The outbreak is considered large by St. Louis County standards, where, in 2010, there were a total of five reported E. coli illness cases.

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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