Nearly Two Months into Romaine Lettuce Outbreak – Source Unidentified

Victims in the E coli Romaine lettuce outbreak are filing lawsuits against Red Lobster, Wal-Mart, and others who sell or serve lettuce tainted with E coli O157:H7.  But so far, the specific source of the E coli tainted Romaine lettuce remains unknown. What investigators know, so far, is that the  coli tainted Romaine lettuce originated in Yuma Valley, Arizona – but that is as far as they will go for now and not an incredibly insightful observation as the Yuma Valley area produces about 80% of aall Romaine lettuce consumed in the U.S. in the winter season (November through March).

The FDA released this statement earlier this week:

We are working to identify multiple distribution channels to explain the entirety of the nationwide outbreak and are tracing back from multiple clusters of ill people located in diverse geographic areas to the most likely, individual sources in the Yuma region

The trace back investigation could take some time as the investigators identify where each victim consumed the Romaine lettuce, and then begin to put together the paper trail that will hopefully lead to a common denominator.  The difficulty often lay in the mixing and comingling of the tainted Romaine lettuce along the way, which can make careful identification of the source difficult.

The outbreak is not yet over given the 21 day shelf life of Romaine lettuce and the amount of time it takes a victim’s illness to work its way through the system for inclusion in the official numbers.  But officials are confident that no additional Romaine lettuce form this region is being shipped to stores and restaurants now.

E coli Romaine lettuce outbreak of 2018 – 12 Years After the last Deadly E coli Romaine Lettuce Outbreak

It was only about 12 years ago when Romaine lettuce was identified as the source of a deadly E coli outbreak in the U.S.  Since then, there have been other outbreaks linked to leafy greens, which are notoriously hard to clean.  They are grown close to the ground, often picked by field workers (E coli is transferred from fecal material so human or animal contact is a critical area of concern), and the served without heat treatment (not cooked).  The same can be said for sprouts which are also linked time and again to E coli, salmonella and other bacteria outbreaks.

Ironically, while most Americans are raised believing that meat is the source of most bacterial infections, vegetables like Romaine lettuce and bean or alfalfa sprouts are all too often the source.  The “healthy salad” is often the most vulnerable part of a mean!

Consumers can reduce that risk by buying these vegetables from producers who screen their product (this may take some research) and washing the product carefully at home. For now, it appears that Romaine lettuce is back on the shelves and safe to consume.

The FDA is likely to identify the source farm in its final report – a report that will likely be an important element in the Romaine lettuce E coli lawsuits that have been filed.  The number of the Romaine lettuce E. coli lawsuits and claims that have been filed grows almost daily.