In early November 2018, the FDA, in conjunction with the CDC, state partners, and Canadian Officials (Public Health Agency of Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency) began to investigate an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections in multiple U.S. states and Canadian provinces. This outbreak was declared over in the U.S. by the CDC on Jan. 9, 2019. In total, there were 62 reported illnesses in 16 states and the District of Columbia, resulting in 25 hospitalizations and two cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome. There were no deaths.
FDA recently released an overview of the investigation that led the agency to issue a public health advisory shortly before Thanksgiving warning consumers not to eat romaine lettuce and asking the industry to remove these greens from store shelves.
Ultimately, a sediment sample taken from an on-farm water reservoir in Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County, Calif., tested positive for the presence of the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. This farm, identified in multiple legs of the U.S. and Canadian traceback investigations, was also identified as one of the potential suppliers of leafy greens or romaine lettuce associated with a 2017 outbreak. While there is no evidence to indicate that this farm is the sole source, the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was not detected in more than 150 other samples collected during this investigation.
The report details how the investigation was conducted and describes its findings. Access the report at https://bit.ly/2N2Zdg1.
As discussed in the Environmental Assessment of Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Romaine Lettuce Implicated in a Multi-State Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, which details the findings of an unrelated 2018 investigation into contamination that originated in the Yuma growing region, food safety problems related leafy greens are a longstanding issue. FDA and CDC identified 28 foodborne illness outbreaks of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens in the U.S. between 2009 and 2017. STEC contamination of leafy greens has been identified by past investigations, traceback, observation, and sample collection results as most likely to occur in the farm environment.