Nineteen people who ate romaine lettuce have been hospitalized since the current outbreak began in early October, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Thursday. The total number of reported E. coli sicknesses is 52 people in 15 U.S. states, but there is a 2-3 week delay between illnesses and their inclusion in CDC reports. Canada has also reported E. coli infections with the same DNA.
That’s worrying enough, but even more concerning is the fact that two months in, authorities haven’t yet identified Romaine Zero — or the original site of the outbreak. It has narrowed it down to California’s central coast and the central and northern Californian growing region, but that’s it. By the end of November, growers had agreed to label their produce, and the CDC advises people not to eat any romaine lettuce grown in those regions or any lettuce that’s unlabeled.
The agency is still waiting for test results of water samples from several California farms and processing facilities.
Another outbreak traced to Yuma, Arizona, this spring sickened at least 150 people and cost the industry hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars.
This time last year health authorities and agricultural growers were also grappling with yet another lettuce-related E. coli outbreak that sickened at least 58 people.
Industry groups have set up a task force to review their procedures and make recommendations for preventing or at least dealing with future outbreaks, such as extending the voluntary geographical origin labeling program, Food Safety News reports.