On August 19, 2022, the CDC reported that 37 people in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania may have contracted E. coli poisoning after eating sandwiches at Wendy’s restaurants that contained romaine lettuce, though the specific cause of the illness was not official.
Less than a week later, the number of illnesses reported had passed the 100 mark. In fact, last week, the Michigan state health department revealed more than 98 complaints of E. coli infections in August, with at least 43 linked to Wendy’s, and the remaining 55 cases undergoing testing. Michigan has also seen several cases of children who have had acute kidney complications due to E. coli infections.
In response, Wendy’s has removed romaine lettuce being used in sandwiches from restaurants in that region as a precautionary measure. “We are fully cooperating with public health authorities on their ongoing investigation of the regional E. coli outbreak reported in certain Midwestern states,” the company said in a statement. “We are taking the precaution of discarding and replacing the sandwich lettuce at some restaurants in that region.” The company also noted that it uses a different type of romaine lettuce in its salads, so those were not recalled.
At press time, CDC is not advising that people avoid dining at Wendy’s or that consumers stop eating romaine lettuce.
The question of how the contamination occurred remains unknown, although there are theories. “Anytime we are talking about raw agricultural commodities, we grow it outside and it’s exposed to the environment and potential contaminants,” says Jim Dickson, professor in the department of animal science at Iowa State University and member of the Food Quality & Safety Editorial Advisory Board. “Wendy’s is certainly doing everything they can—they have a vested interest in protecting their name and brand and certainly no one wants to see anyone sick. They are doing what they can to prevent this from becoming a bigger issue than it already is.”
CDC investigators are still working to confirm whether romaine lettuce is the source of the outbreak, and whether this particular romaine lettuce was served in any other Wendy’s restaurants.