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FDA Determines Source Of Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak

Jun 30, 2018 10:18 AM EDT
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Health officials declare that the E. coli outbreak in the United States is over as of Thursday, June 28.

The outbreak, associated with romaine lettuce, was traced to contaminated canal water. Investigations have been ongoing on the E. coli flare-up that spread to 36 states across the country.

A final CDC report on the outbreak reveals that a total of 210 people were infected, 96 hospitalized, and 27 developed a kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Five people died from the outbreak strain.

E. Coli Traced To Canal Water

Water turned out to be the culprit behind the wave of E. coli illness in spring. Specifically, the outbreak strain has been identified in the canal water samples from the growing region of Yuma, Arizona.

However, people can now rest easy as the Food and Drug Administration reports that the suspected infected products are no longer harvested or distributed from the Yuma growing region. Since lettuce has a limited 21-day shelf life, the ones that were contaminated are no longer on store shelves or in restaurants.

The FDA  continues their investigation to find out how the bacteria got in the water and, consequently, how the water contaminated the romaine lettuce.

"We, along with our partners, will continue to assess these findings, their meanings, and determine what additional efforts may help us better understand this outbreak," says Scott Gottlieb, M.D., FDA commissioner. "We are committed to continuing to share updates on our progress."

FDA Hails Technological Advancements

Foodborne illness reportedly affects almost 50 million people every year, equal to roughly one in six Americans. Of this number, around 128,000 people end up in the hospital and 3,000 of them die annually.

In his statement, Gottlieb clarifies that the FDA believes there aren't more outbreaks going on. Instead, the agency believes the food is safer than ever and officials are more capable of spotting the outbreaks earlier.

He stresses the significance of new technology and tools that help health officials identify outbreaks and their sources. One example the commissioner mentions in his statement is whole genome sequencing, which allows scientists to sequence and to determine the genetic footprint of the foodborne pathogen.

"Scientific advances have made our ability to detect and solve outbreaks much better," Gottlieb explains. "As a result, simply counting outbreaks from year-to-year is not an effective way to determine if the number of outbreaks is increasing, decreasing, remaining steady, or to determine whether our food is getting safer or not."

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