First death reported in nation's romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak

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The Center for Disease Control has reported the first death from an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce.

The outbreak is unusually severe due to the particular strain of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli O157:H7, which tends to lead to higher hospitalization rates.

Bill Marler, a Seattle-based food safety lawyer who has been involved in food-borne illness lawsuits for decades, said it's striking that federal investigators still have not explained how, when and where the bacteria contaminated the romaine and spread to so many people and places.

Health officials have tied the E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, which provides most of the romaine sold in the USA during the winter.

Almost half of those reporting illness, 52, have been hospitalized, which is a higher-than-usual hospitalization rate. With the numbers ratcheting up every week, this outbreak is approaching the scale of the 2006 baby spinach E. coli outbreak, in which 205 people became sick and five of them died.

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Three more states - Kentucky, Massachusetts and Utah- have reported cases, the CDC said in an email. In addition, 14 of the hospitalized patients have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.

The FDA is continuing to investigate the source of the chopped romaine lettuce that caused these illnesses and has identified dozens of other fields as possible sources.

The growing season at that farm has ended, and the shelf life of the lettuce from there has passed.

As the investigation continued, the CDC repeated its advice to the public: "Do not serve or sell any romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region. If you do not know if the lettuce in a salad mix is romaine, do not eat it".

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