E. coli Outbreak Traced to Bagged Lettuce Distributed by Aunt Mid's Produce CompanySep 29, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The Michigan Department of Community Health has announced that bagged lettuce from Detroit-based produce distributor Aunt Mid’s Produce Company, is the probable source of the recent E. coli outbreak that seems to have originated in that state. Following the announcement, Michigan State University (MSU) removed iceberg lettuce from its residence halls. This outbreak has sickened 26 people in Michigan and several others in New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Oregon. Some of those who fell ill included inmates at Michigan’s Lenawee County Jail.
“That pretty much nailed the fact that it was a national distributor,” MSU University Physician Beth Alexander said regarding the related cases emerging in other states. “There can be many distributors of one farm. If you trace it back to where the product is produced they might sell to several distributors.” Aunt Mid’s released a statement Friday saying, “(Aunt Mid’s) has already voluntarily initiated testing procedures by an independent laboratory. In the meantime, Aunt Mid’s is voluntarily suspending any processing and sale of its iceberg lettuce product line.” Although MSU cafeterias will continue to provide other types of lettuce, Alexander was unsure when iceberg lettuce would return to the university’s menus.
The state connected lettuce supplies from MSU, the Lenawee County Jail, and a restaurant in Illinois, said James McCurtis, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. “So far, it points to Aunt Mid’s,” he said. “As we progress, there might be other vendors.” After learning that the state suspected lettuce as the cause of the outbreak, Alexander said MSU’s iceberg lettuce was removed from dining halls within 15 minutes. “I don’t think there’s much question about it being lettuce,” Alexander said. “Fresh produce and ground beef are the two most common sources.”
Alexander said MSU students answered a food consumption survey that was sent out Thursday night. “We had 400 responses within 12 hours,” she said. “It really helped the state figure it out. I was amazed that on a Thursday night to have that many (responses) that quickly.”
The Associate Press reports that at least five Illinois residents were hospitalized after contracting the bacteria between late August and mid-September, with a sixth Illinois resident also reported infected. An Aunt Mid’s company statement says Aunt Mid's has begun testing of its processing facility and initial results show no contamination, according to the AP.
E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces. Some strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, deadly, and toxin-producing and part of a group of E. coli called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli, or VTECs. Of particular concern is the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain that is part of this group and that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreak. Strain O157:H7 has been confirmed to be to blame in this outbreak. E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death. In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, sickening about 73,000 and killing 61; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.