In an unusually broad advisory, the United States Food & Drug Administration is recommending that all romaine lettuce be removed from circulation pending more findings from an investigation into an 11-state E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that has sickened at least 32 people and hospitalized 13.
“Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators should not serve romaine lettuce until more is known about this outbreak,” the FDA said Tuesday.
The FDA also aimed its advisory at retailers and consumers, who, along with restaurateurs, were deep into preparations for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Consumers “should not eat and discard romaine, or any mixed salads containing romaine, until more information on the source of the contamination and the status of the outbreak can be determined,” it said.
The agency said the recent illnesses were “likely linked to romaine lettuce” but, at this point, it does not have enough information to identify the source of the contamination, and so cannot request a targeted recall from specific suppliers. That being the case, FDA officials wrote, “the most efficient way to ensure that contaminated romaine is off the market would be for industry to voluntarily withdraw product from the market, and to withhold distribution of romaine until public health authorities can ensure the outbreak is over and/or until FDA can identify a specific source of contamination.”
According to the FDA, the seriousness of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections such as this one varies for each person and symptoms often include severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. Most people get better within five to seven days, but 5 percent to 10 percent of those diagnosed with such infections develop a potentially life-threatening complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) that can lead to kidney failure, among other problems. Children under the age of 5 years, adults older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness.
According to the FDA, the most recent illness onset in the U.S. in the current outbreak was October 31.
As of Tuesday afternoon, states with illnesses reported by the FDA, and the number of illnesses, were as follows: California, 10; Connecticut, 1; Illinois, 2; Massachusetts, 2, Maryland, 1; Michigan, 7; New Hampshire, 2; New Jersey, 3; New York, 2; Ohio, 1; and Wisconsin, 1.
The FDA said it is being joined in the outbreak investigation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state and local public health agencies. It also said that the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which are investigating a similar outbreak in that country, are in touch with U.S. health agencies.
FDA representatives indicated that the latest round of sicknesses does not appear connected to the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce earlier this year. But they noted that the pathogen strains of this latest outbreak “are similar to strains of E. coli O157:H7 associated with a previous outbreak from the Fall of 2017 that also affected consumers in both Canada and the U.S.” and was associated with leafy greens, including romaine.
Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected]
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