The Centers for Disease Control is warning consumers about romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Aris, saying it may cause illness due to E. coli bacteria. Dozens of people from nearly 20 states have recently been sickened by the bacteria. (April 26)
PHOENIX — Public health officials identified a Yuma, Ariz., farm they say is linked to eight cases of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 98 people in 22 states.
A new outbreak of E. coli in 11 states has been linked by government investigators to bagged, chopped romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Ariz. Consumer Reports is recommending—for the second time since January—that consumers avoid all romaine lettuce for
Harrison Farms was the source of whole heads of Romaine lettuce sold to a prison in Nome, Alaska, where eight inmates became ill after eating the tainted lettuce.
But officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration cautioned Friday that Harrison Farms so far can’t be tied to the other 90 cases, which are still under investigation.
Harrison Farm officials hung up phone multiple times Friday and, within a few minutes of the announcement, stopped answering calls altogether.
However, a lawyer representing Harrison Farms said Friday the eight cases only account for a fraction of the total cases.
“There is a real preoccupation with the source and the biggest takeaway from that is they don’t know about all the sources,” said Bradley Sullivan, a Sacramento lawyer specializing in agricultural cases. “They are not able to say that Harrison is the source of the other 90 cases. It’s unlikely that they are. If they could have made that connection, they would would have said so.”
Sullivan said this is an unconventional outbreak. He said there could be multiple outbreaks happening simultaneously, or multiple farms affected by the same sources such as water or animals.
There could have been an unexpected break in the distribution chain, meaning lettuce could have been contaminated by a processor or a shipper and sent to different buyers, Sullivan said.
“Everybody wants to know where it came from,” he said. “I feel bad for Harrison Farms, because they are going to get blamed for the whole thing.”
Doctors with the CDC and the FDA said during a conference call Friday they are looking at different clusters of the outbreak and “have narrowed it down to a couple of dozen farms.”
They reiterated warnings to consumers not to eat romaine lettuce from the Yuma region. Public health officials said that covers whole heads, hearts and bags of shredded romaine lettuce and spring mixes.
In the past two days, 14 more people have been added to the list of those sickened in a national E. coli outbreak that began in March. Eight cases have been reported in Arizona.
That brings the total number of people sickened with the virulent bacterial infection to 98 in 22 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
Ill people range in age from 1 to 88 years. Pennsylvania, California and Idaho reported the largest number of cases.
The lack of information about a specific source had paralyzed lettuce growers in Arizona and California, who produce the vast majority of the nation’s lettuce.
Farms in the Yuma region supply North America with the vast majority of its leafy greens from January through March every year.
The prison’s food supplier, Country Foods IGA of Kenai, confirmed the lettuce came from Yuma but could not provide the name of the grower.
Bill Marler, a nationally recognized food-safety lawyer in Seattle, represents 32 people who got sick from eating the lettuce, including seven people with kidney failure. Among those are a 13-year-old girl in New York who is now home on dialysis and a 6-year-old boy in California who has undergone three blood transfusions.
Marler said one of his clients is an Arizona woman who was hospitalized for five days. He said she became ill three days after eating a salad at a restaurant. The health department confirmed her case was connected to the national outbreak.
Illnesses that occurred in the past two to three weeks might not yet be reported because of the time between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported to CDC.
The numbers of actual cases could fluctuate based on when they were reported and DNA tests. For instance, Alaska health officials said the eight inmates were positively linked to the outbreak, but the CDC so far is only counting five Alaska cases.
Includes information from Arizona Republic reporter Bree Burkitt.
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2vRBqdP