E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce

Nov 20, 2018

Just days before the Thanksgiving Holiday the Centers for Disease Control is advising U.S. consumers to avoid romaine lettuce due to a multi-state outbreak of illnesses linked to E. Coli.

With 32 reported cases in 11 states, so far there have been no deaths attributed to the outbreak though 13 people have been hospitalized. 

The CDC says evidence indicates the outbreak is linked to romaine lettuce.  The agency advises consumers, restaurants, and retailers to throw away romaine lettuce, including whole heads, hearts of romaine, and bagged or boxed varieties.  You may also need to clean your refrigerator.

No grower or supplier has been linked to the outbreak.

"You can imagine that growers are going to be hearing from their shippers." - Dr. Paula Rivadiniera

This summer there was an E.Coli outbreak traced to romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma area.  210 cases were reported from March to June in 36 states.  5 people died. 

Harvesting of romaine fields in the Yuma area this season has only recently started. The first case reported in the current outbreak alert was in early October. 

Still, the news is devastating for local growers.  Dr. Paula Rivadineira is an extension specialist at the University of Arizona’s Yuma field office.  She says even if no contaminated romaine lettuce is linked to the region there will be an impact on local growers.

"If everyone is being warned not to eat any romaine at all, regardless of where it came from.  You can imagine that growers are definitely going to be hearing from their shippers.  We don't know what it means yet.  We don't know if shippers are going to call and tell the growers they don't want the romaine.  It is definietly a possibility," Rivadiniera says.

The food resercher says Yuma growers focused on their practices following the spring outbreak.  But it may be time to take the focus off growers and look harder at the supply chain.

Rivadiniera says following an outbreak a lot of attention is directed at farmers.  "They want to know where the food was grown, they want to know exactly which field it came from, which farmers grew it," she says.

"There are a whole bunch of people along that supply chain who touch that food, who touch that lettuce.  It goes through processing, it gets on trucks.  There is lots of refrigeration so there are temperatures to worry about.  There are so many other aspects that could be involved in any outbreak.  I find it strange that we go straight to the farmer and almost assume that that is where it came from," Rivadiniera says.

Symptoms of E.Coli can include stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.   Some people may feel better in a few days but more severe infections can be life-threatening.