A multi-state outbreak of E. coli food poisoning has sickened dozens of people and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked the outbreak to contaminated romaine lettuce in certain pre-made chicken Caesar salad products and other food products containing romaine lettuce from the Salinas, California growing region. According to the CDC, there have been at least 40 cases of illness reported across 16 states, each involving consumers who were infected by a similar strain of E. coli O157:H7, a serious and sometimes fatal infection associated with contaminated, undercooked liquids and foods. It is important to be aware of food recalls and outbreaks linked to contaminated food products so you can avoid consuming potentially dangerous foods and prevent yourself and your loved ones from being exposed to serious illness.
According to a press release issued by the CDC on November 20, 2019, an initial investigation into the multi-state E. coli outbreak identified 17 people infected with the outbreak strain. Of those 17 people, seven were hospitalized, including two people who developed a severe type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. Initially, CDC officials, in coordination with public health and state regulatory officials, linked the E. coli outbreak to pre-packaged Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Chicken Caesar Salad products sold at Sam’s Club and other grocery retailers across the United States. According to reports, the Maryland Department of Health first identified the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 in an unopened package of Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Chicken Caesar Salad collected from an ill person’s home.
As the investigation continued, the E. coli outbreak was eventually linked to romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas, California growing region and used in Ready Pac Foods Bistro Chicken Caesar Salad and other food products. People who became ill during the E. coli outbreak were interviewed to determine what foods they ate in the week leading up to their illness in order to identify the cause of the outbreak. Eighty percent of the people interviewed reported eating romaine lettuce and ill people in Maryland specifically reported eating Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Chicken Caesar Salad, which contained romaine lettuce from the Salinas, California growing region. According to the latest CDC report, a total of 40 people have been infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7, including 28 hospitalizations and five cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome.
E. coli O157:H7 is one of the Shiga toxin-producing types of E. coli, a food- and waterborne pathogen that causes diarrhea (often bloody), vomiting and severe stomach cramps. It can also cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, a medical condition that affects the blood and blood vessels. Hemolytic uremic syndrome triggers the destruction of blood platelets and can result in anemia (a low red blood cell count) and kidney failure due to damage to the very small blood vessels of the kidneys. Most people infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli recover within one week, but some E. coli-related illnesses can last longer and can be significantly more severe. According to the CDC’s latest report, “This outbreak is caused by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 that caused outbreaks linked to leafy greens in 2017 and romaine lettuce in 2018.”
In response to this latest E. coli outbreak, the CDC is advising consumers, retailers and restaurants to avoid eating, selling or using romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California. This includes whole heads of romaine lettuce, hearts of romaine and packages of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine lettuce, such as spring mix and Caesar salad. The CDC also recommends that consumers notify their healthcare professional if they develop any symptoms of an E. coli infection and avoid spreading infections to others by practicing proper hygiene, especially good handwashing. People exposed to E. coli O157:H7 typically become ill within an average of three to four days after swallowing the germ. If you believe you have been exposed to a potentially harmful bacteria from eating romaine lettuce or any other contaminated food product and you are experiencing symptoms of an E. coli infection, contact your doctor immediately to determine your best course of action.