FDA Investigating Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Likely Linked to Romaine Lettuce
Recalls Food Safety Health
U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Update: November 26, 2018

The FDA, along with CDC, state and local agencies, is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses likely linked to romaine lettuce grown in California this fall. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency are also coordinating with U.S. agencies as they investigate a similar outbreak in Canada.

The FDA has been conducting a traceback investigation, reviewing shipping records and invoices to trace the supply of romaine from the place where ill people were exposed to the place where that romaine was grown.

Preliminary traceback information indicates that ill people in several areas across the country were exposed to romaine lettuce harvested in California. Specifically, current evidence indicates this romaine was harvested in the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California.

Romaine harvested from locations outside of the California regions identified by the traceback investigation does not appear to be related to the current outbreak.

There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine lettuce that is certain to have been harvested from areas outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California. For example, romaine lettuce harvested from areas that include, but are not limited to the desert growing region near Yuma, the California desert growing region near Imperial County and Riverside County, the state of Florida, and Mexico, does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. Additionally, there is no evidence hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine is related to the current outbreak.

During this new stage of the investigation, it is vital that consumers and retailers have an easy way to identify romaine lettuce by both harvest date and harvest location. Labeling with this information on each bag of romaine or signage in stores where labels are not an option would easily differentiate for consumers romaine from unaffected growing regions.

Recommendation:

Based on discussions with producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date or labeled as being hydroponically- or greenhouse-grown. If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.

If romaine lettuce does have this labeling information, we advise avoiding any product from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California. Romaine lettuce from outside those regions need not be avoided.

Romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these sources.

 

The FDA, along with CDC, state and local agencies, is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses likely linked to romaine lettuce. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency, are also coordinating with U.S. agencies as they investigate a similar outbreak in Canada.

Genetic analysis of the E. coli O157:H7 strains tested to date from patients in this current 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. The 2017 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was associated with leafy greens in the U.S. and romaine in Canada. This year, romaine lettuce is the suspected vehicle for both the U.S. and Canadian outbreaks. There is no genetic link between the current outbreak and the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine that occurred in the Spring of 2018.

The FDA is conducting a traceback investigation to determine the source of the romaine lettuce eaten by people who became sick. Additionally, FDA and states are conducting laboratory analysis of romaine lettuce samples potentially linked to the current outbreak.

The most recent illness onset in the U.S. in the current outbreak was October 31, 2018. For this outbreak investigation, the average interval between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to CDC is 20 days.

Recommendation:

People should not eat romaine lettuce until more is known about the source of the contaminated lettuce and the status of the outbreak.

What is the Problem and What is Being Done?

The FDA, along with CDC, state and local agencies, is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses likely linked to romaine lettuce. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and Canadian Food Inspection Agency, are also coordinating with U.S. agencies as they investigate a similar outbreak in Canada.

Genetic analysis of the E. coli O157:H7 strains tested to date from patients in this current 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. The 2017 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was associated with leafy greens in the U.S. and romaine in Canada. This year, romaine lettuce is the suspected vehicle for both the U.S. and Canadian outbreaks. There is no genetic link between the current outbreak and the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine that occurred in the Spring of 2018.

The FDA is conducting a traceback investigation to determine the source of the romaine lettuce eaten by people who became sick. Additionally, FDA and states are conducting laboratory analysis of romaine lettuce samples potentially linked to the outbreak.

The most recent illness onset in the U.S. among these cases was October 31, 2018. For this outbreak investigation, the average interval between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to CDC is 20 days.

What Products are Recalled?

Currently, the FDA does not have enough traceback information to identify the source of the contamination that would allow us to request a targeted recall from specific suppliers. At this stage in the investigation, 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. Until then, the FDA advises that 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.

What are the Symptoms of E. Coli Infection?

The symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing (STEC) E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. If there is fever, it is usually not very high (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit/less than 38.5 degrees Celsius). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

Around 5–10 percent of those who are diagnosed with STEC infection develop a potentially life-threatening complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. Most people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die. People who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately. Persons with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working (acute renal failure), but they may also develop other serious problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, and neurologic problems.

Who is at Risk?

People of any age can become infected with Shiga toxin-producing (STEC) E. coli. 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, including HUS, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill.

What Do Restaurants and Retailers Need To Do?

Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators should not serve romaine lettuce until more is known about this outbreak.

Restaurants and retailers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. It is recommended that they wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food.

  • Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators regularly.
  • Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to prepare, serve, or store food.
  • Wash hands with hot water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.

Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces and utensils used in food preparation may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination.

What Do Consumers Need To Do?

The FDA advises that 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.

Consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. It is recommended that they wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food.

Additional Information

We aim to provide information about certain recalls that have the potential to negatively impact your health. For more information on these and other recalls, please refer to fda.gov and fsis.usda.gov.

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