The Latest on Lettuce: Third E. Coli Outbreak in Washington

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Silver Spring, MD—FDA and CDC are now tracking three separate outbreaks of E. col caused by three different strains of E. coli O157:H7. FDA and CDC have identified a common grower between each of the outbreaks, according to a statement from Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response at FDA, but it’s still too soon to determine conclusively whether or not there are other sources involved.

To recap, there was the initial outbreak traced to farms in Salinas, California; the second outbreak, linked to Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits; and now, an outbreak in Washington State, linked to romaine consumption at local restaurant chain Evergreens, with 10 confirmed cases, three probable cases, and three hospitalizations, all reporting exposure in early to mid-November.

Yiannas noted in the statement that the traceback challenge is complex—an ill person has to report the illness, and then note all foods consumed; FDA then has to identify the most likely cause, confirm that, trace the product back to where it was bought and then to where it was grown. However, this year’s outbreak was traced much more quickly than last year’s, and it was traced to a specific growing location fairly quickly, but that their quick work and ability to isolate the issue to a single growing area is thanks to new DNA-fingerprinting capabilities and, most importantly, the voluntary adoption of labeling best practices.

Yiannas emphasized the importance of prevention: “Given the repeat nature of these outbreaks linked to leafy greens, and more specifically to romaine lettuce, it’s critical that everyone across the romaine supply chain do everything possible to fully understand why and how these outbreaks keep happening and continue to aggressively implement preventive measures to further protect consumers.”

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