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FDA updates romaine outbreak, increases illness cases

romaine – bb
Illustration by Pamela Riemenschneider

Statement from the Food and Drug Administration December 19, 2019:

FDA, CDC, and state health authorities are investigating an outbreak of illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 in the U.S. Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicates that romaine lettuce from the Salinas, California growing region is the likely source of this outbreak.

Current traceback investigations have identified a common grower in Salinas. FDA, CDC, and California partners have deployed a team to conduct new investigations at several ranches used by this grower as we try to identify the source of the contamination.

According to CDC, there have been 138 cases reported in 25 states. The latest date that one of these patients reported becoming ill was on December 1, 2019.

Case Counts
Total Illnesses: 138
Hospitalizations: 72
Deaths: 0
Last illness onset: December 1, 2019
States with Cases: AZ (3), CA (4), CO (6), FL (2), IA (1), ID (3), IL (10), MD (5), MI (1), MN (5), MT (1), NE (2), NJ (9), NC (2), NM (2), OH (12), OR (1), PA (17), SC (1), SD (1), TN (1), TX (6), VA (6), WA (4), WI (33)

FDA continues to actively investigate the cause of this outbreak. An investigation team consisting of staff from FDA, CDC, the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are attempting to identify any factors that could have led to contamination at a common farm identified by traceback. This investigation involves assessing and sampling soil, animal droppings, compost, water, and other potential environmental sources at the ranches of this grower. The samples and information collected during the farm investigations will be analyzed.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recently reported that they identified the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 in an unopened bag of Fresh Express brand Leafy Green Romaine collected from an ill person’s home. The source of the romaine identified in the bag was Salinas, California. It was determined that one of the growers of this product also supplied romaine linked to other E. coli outbreaks that FDA is investigating.

These outbreaks are each caused by strains that are different from each other and different from the larger outbreak. One of the additional outbreaks, in Washington state, is potentially linked to romaine lettuce. The other outbreak, with cases in the U.S. and Canada, is linked to Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits.