The Food and Drug Administration has traced an E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce to a single farm’s irrigation reservoir in Santa Barbara County, California, the agency announced Thursday.
Adams Bros. Farms, the producer linked to the pre-Thanksgiving outbreak, has not shipped lettuce since Nov. 20 and has cooperated with the investigation, the FDA said in a statement.
While this positive sample is a significant development in helping investigators explain the outbreak in part, the FDA said, “The outbreak may not be explained by a single farm, grower, harvester, or distributor.” In other words, the probe continues.
As of Dec. 13, 59 people in 15 states had become ill during this E. coli outbreak, the FDA said, with the last reported illness beginning nearly a month earlier on Nov. 16. No deaths have been linked to this outbreak, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said two people have been hospitalized for kidney failure. In Canada, as of Dec. 6, there were 27 illnesses in three provinces that were being investigated.
Symptoms of illness linked to E. coli include intense stomach cramps, vomiting and potentially bloody diarrhea, and the CDC does not recommend antibiotics to treat infections from this strain.
A week later, on Nov. 23, the FDA worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, to trace back the strain, E. coli O157:H7, to contaminated romaine lettuce.
What does the announcement mean for you?
The CDC said in a statement that labeling has been added to packaging indicating specifically where the lettuce comes from: “If the romaine lettuce is not labeled or if you cannot identify where it is from, do not buy, serve, sell, or eat it.”
Romaine lettuce harvested after Nov. 23 anywhere other than California’s Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara counties does not appear to be affected by the current outbreak, the FDA said. The same is true for romaine lettuce grown hydroponically or in greenhouses.
“There’s no reason for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these sources,” the FDA said.