• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region could be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Thus far, 53 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 16 states. Thirty-one people have been hospitalized, including 5 people who have developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. No deaths have been reported.
  • On April 20, the CDC expanded its warning to consumers to cover all types of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region. The warning now includes whole heads and hearts of romaine lettuce, in addition to chopped romaine and salads and salad mixes containing romaine. Because package labels do not often identify growing regions, the CDC recommends consumers throw out any romaine lettuce, even if partially eaten, and avoid eating romaine lettuce at restaurants.
  • The contaminated growing region was identified after state and local health officials in Alaska interviewed sick inmates at a correctional facility to ask about the foods they ate and other exposures before they became ill. Traceback investigations show that the lettuce ill people ate came from whole heads of romaine lettuce from Yuma. However, at this time, no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand has been identified. A lack of traceability coding has been blamed for the failure in identifying the source of the romaine. Traceability labeling and coding would allow finished product sent to retailers and foodservice operations to be traced back through the supply chain virtually immediately.
  • While the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule established specific recordkeeping requirements, traceability coding is not a requirement. Despite the lack of a federal requirement, it is possible food producers, specifically those who grow fresh fruits and vegetables, may begin to utilize traceability software to minimize the spread of outbreaks. Keller and Heckman will continue to monitor the multistate outbreak linked to romaine lettuce.