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Rare E. Coli Strain Found in Romaine Lettuce

May 11, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

U.S. health regulators have confirmed that romaine lettuce is responsible for an outbreak of E. coli O145 in three states. E. coli O145 is a rare strain of the disease that is difficult to diagnose.

Because it is more difficult to identify, the disease often goes unreported. Symptoms may range from none to mild diarrhea to severe complications.The acute symptoms include severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea, which may be bloody. Patients may progress to serious complications, such as kidney damage. Anyone who has experienced the symptoms following ingestion of romaine lettuce products should contact their health care provider immediately.

To date, there have been 19 confirmed and additional unconfirmed cases of E. coli O145 infections in Michigan, Ohio, and New York. These illnesses include 12 individuals who have been hospitalized, and three with a potentially life threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a serious condition in which the body’s blood-clotting mechanisms are altered, causing blocked circulation or bleeding in the brain or kidneys.

According to a statement from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the outbreak strain of E. coli O145 was detected by the New York State Public Health Laboratory, Wadsworth Center, in Albany, in an unopened bag of shredded romaine lettuce distributed by Freshway Foods of Sidney, Ohio.

The FDA said it is investigating the Yuma farm where the romaine lettuce was harvested and is attempting to determine the point in the supply chain where the contamination occurred. The agency declined to identify the farm.

Last week, Freshway Foods voluntarily recalled certain romaine lettuce products because of the possible connection to the E. coli O145 food borne illness outbreak. The recalled shredded romaine lettuce had “best if used by” dates of May 12 or earlier. The products were sold under the Freshway brand and Imperial Sysco brand to wholesalers in Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The recalled romaine products were also sold for distribution to in-store salad bars and delis for Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets, and Marsh stores in the states listed.

Yesterday, the FDA announced that a food distributor in Moore, Okla., was recalling romaine lettuce that came from the same farm in Yuma, Ariz. California-based Andrew Smith Co. said Monday it is recalling lettuce sold to Vaughn Foods in Moore, Okla., and to a distributor in Massachusetts.

The “use by” date of the lettuce sold to Vaughn Foods is May 9 or 10, according to the FDA. The FDA said lettuce distributed by the company was sold to restaurants and food service facilities and were not available for purchase at retail establishments by consumers. Andrew Smith Co. buys bulk romaine lettuce from farms and sells it to distributors. Those distributors, such as Freshway Foods and Vaughn Foods, then sell it to food service outlets or retail customers.

According to the agency, most of the lettuce recalled was sold to food service establishments. The recall does not affect bagged lettuce in the grocery store.


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