E. Coli Outbreak

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via Wikimedia Commons

The E. Coli bacteria

“It is the largest American E. coli flare-up since 2006, when tainted spinach sickened 199 people across 26 states”, says the New York Times. For over a month, cases of E. Coli illnesses linked to romaine lettuce have been reported in over 20 states. E. Coli may sound familiar from 2016, when Chipotle’s reputation spiraled downwards as 53 customers came down with illnesses related to the bacteria. But what is E. Coli, and how bad is the outbreak this time?

E. Coli is the abbreviation for Escherichia Coli. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are “bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals.” There are many strains, or variants of E. Coli, most of which are harmless. However, some strains can cause severe stomach cramps, fever, or even life-threatening illnesses. The most recent strain of E. Coli was identified as O157:H7. O157:H7 was warned to be “particularly virulent…known to be associated with higher hospitalization and complication rates.” As of May 9, 2018, 28 more infected people from 12 states were added to the total of 149 E. Coli strain cases. 29 states have been affected, including 64 hospitalizations, including 1 death reported from California. The majority of the people interviewed had stated that they had consumed romaine lettuce a week prior to E. Coli symptoms.

It is believed that the trail of E. Coli in romaine lettuce traces back to Harrison Farms in Yuma, Arizona. However, food investigators are still actively looking for the source of contamination. It is still unclear to food investigators the source where the romaine lettuce became exposed to E. Coli. There may have been bacteria in the soil through fecal matter–may be spread by animals passing by the fields, even humans.

“Do not eat, buy, or sell romaine lettuce unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma growing region,” said Kirk Smith, a manager of the health department’s foodborne diseases unit. The E. Coli outbreak may be over by now, and romaine lettuce should be safe to consume as long as its supplier can confirm that it’s not from Arizona. In the meantime, be sure to wash fresh groceries and be a bit more cautious about buying romaine lettuce and packaged containing it.