Largest E. Coli O157:H7 Outbreak in Romaine Lettuce in Over a Decade with No Source Identified

Contributed by Nguyet Kong

FDA and CDC have reported that 98 people in 22 different states have become ill with E. coli O157: H7 after ingesting whole head romaine lettuce. No deaths have been reported, but many have been hospitalized. The FDA has investigated and found the source of the lettuce growing area to the Yuma, Arizona region. They are looking at all possibilities including contamination at different phases such as growing, harvesting, packaging and distribution.

The agency has figured out that the lettuce was harvested between March 5 and March 16, which when ingested by people it is past the 21-day shelf life. The growing season is ending and they are no longer growing romaine lettuce at this time. Also, another illness was not linked to Yuma region, but people were reporting illness after eating bagged romaine salads. Since the bacteria is causing many people to be sick, everyone should avoid eating romaine lettuce unless it’s clearly not from the Yuma region. If the packaging does not clearly state the growing location, the CDC has advised the public to toss the lettuce.

Symptoms of the Shiga toxin producing (STEC) E. coli O157: H7 infection is different with every person. It can include nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, fever and mild infections. Most people will get better within a week. However, for less than 10% of people, it can have life-threatening complications due to their kidneys not functioning correctly.  This is known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The FDA & CDC are continuing their investigation to over 2 dozen other romaine lettuce growers in the country.


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