CDC: Romaine on Wendy's Sandwiches Is Likely the Source of E. coli

CDC: Romaine on Wendy’s Sandwiches Is Likely the Source of E. coli

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Most of those who are sick of E coli in a recent outbreak in the Midwest, a Wendy’s restaurant ate in the week before their symptoms started, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

While the CDC has not definitively identified the fast food chain as the source of the infections, most of the sick reported eating sandwiches topped with romaine lettuce. The chain’s restaurants in the region have stopped using the lettuce in sandwiches as a precaution, the Columbus-based company said in a statement.

“While the CDC has not yet confirmed that a specific food is the source of that outbreak, we are taking the precaution to remove the sandwich lettuce from restaurants in that region,” the statement said. “The lettuce we use in our salads is different and unaffected by this promotion. As a company, we are committed to maintaining our high standards of food safety and quality.”

According to the CDC and Michigan authorities, at least 65 people have fallen ill in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania, including 10 who have been hospitalized. No one is known to have died.

CDC reports ‘rapid’ E. coli outbreak in Michigan and Ohio

CDC said Friday it is not advising people not to eat at Wendy’s restaurants or that people stop eating romaine lettuce. At this time, according to the agency, there is no evidence that romaine lettuce sold in supermarkets, served in other restaurants or in people’s homes is linked to this outbreak.

Several high-profile E. coli outbreaks have been linked to romaine lettuce. The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed in 2011, required farmers to test irrigation water, which can be contaminated with feces and bacteria. But the FDA has delayed its implementation.

“E. coli outbreaks associated with lettuce, especially the ‘pre-washed’ and ‘ready-to-eat’ varieties, are by no means a new phenomenon,” said Bill Marler, an attorney who specializes in foodborne illness cases. “In fact, the frequency with which the public consuming fresh produce in this country is affected by outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria is astounding.”

What you need to know about E. coli symptoms and how to prevent infection?

The outbreak joins several other high-profile incidents of allegedly contaminated food this year. The FDA and CDC investigated a multi-state salmonella infection outbreak linked to certain Jif-branded peanut butter products manufactured at a facility in Lexington, Kentucky, leading to many recalls. Abbott Nutrition recalled 5 million units of baby food after at least four babies became ill, two of whom died. A listeria outbreak linked to Big Olaf Creamery of Sarasota, Florida, led to ice cream recalls in many states, and organic strawberries were the source of a hepatitis A outbreak this spring.

The source of the recent E. coli cases has been slow to come to light as state and local public health officials interviewed people about the foods they ate the week before they got sick.

The CDC is trying to determine the full scope of the outbreak, which officials said could extend beyond the four known states. Public health researchers are using the PulseNet system, a national database of DNA fingerprints of bacteria that cause foodborne illness, to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak.

The CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick each year in the United States, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses.

Foodborne illnesses result in $3 billion in health care costs. Nearly half of illnesses come from produce, according to the CDC. Then, in descending order, is the meat and fowl; dairy and eggs; and fish and shellfish.

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