Once again, E. coli has caused an outbreak making 149 people sick in over 29 states through contamination of romaine lettuce. An exact map of cases by state of residence can be found at the Centers for Disease Control. This is the second biggest outbreak since 2006, which spread through baby spinach and had five people killed and 205 really sick. With the case count at 149 already with this latest outbreak, authorities are not sure how many more cases there are out there.
Federal authorities have been grappling with the investigation trying to nail down not only the source but also how the lettuce got contaminated. So far, they have traced the tainted lettuce to a farm in Yuma, Arizona. Yuma region supplies most of the lettuce to the rest of the country during the winter months to first two weeks of April.
Most people who got sick had consumed the lettuce at restaurants that used the chopped-up bagged variety. This specific strain is E. coli 0157: H7. It causes sickness by disrupting liver function through the release of a certain toxin. Patients have reported vomiting and severe diarrhea, and in extreme cases, signs of kidney failure.
Almost half of the victims of the E. coli contamination, ranging from age 1 to 88 years, have been admitted to hospitals. 17 people have shown signs of kidney failure, and one person has died in California. It is interesting to note 65% of the people who got sick were women.
While the pre-washed, chopped and bagged variety of salads brings a world of convenience to the average household, it also brings the added risk of contamination. The more points there are in a production facility, the higher the chances of contamination and the harder it is to monitor and investigate the source. In this case, from being washed to chopped and then getting bagged adds to the risk. While the instances of contamination are not common, we often trade convenience with the added risk of illness.
Authorities are warning consumers, restaurant owners and retailers to avoid consuming lettuce sourced from the Yuma region. If you already have some in the house, throw it out immediately. This applies to whole heads, hearts, baby romaine and the chopped variety.