The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Public Health Agency of Canada are investigating the source of a recent E. coli outbreak that has infected 58 people and resulted in two deaths in the United States and Canada. This particular strain, called E. coli O157:H7, has been linked to leafy greens and romaine lettuce.
Between Nov. 15 and Dec. 8, the disease spread to 13 states, including Michigan, and multiple provinces in Canada. Though the disease is reported to have spread a month ago, public health notices are now being published.
Consumer Reports states E. coli symptoms typically surface one to three days after infection, but may take as long as 10 days. These symptoms include severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. This particular strain of E. coli can lead to serious illness, kidney failure and death if left untreated. Young children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system are the most vulnerable to this illness.While the Public Health Agency of Canada has officially identified the source of the outbreak as romaine lettuce, the CDC is still investigating the possible origin. Preliminary results of CDC genome sequencing of the bacteria suggest the Canadian E. coli strain and the American E. coli strain are genetically closely related, indicating a common source of infection.
The Public Health Agency of Canada advised those in its eastern provinces to avoid romaine lettuce and eat other salad greens until further notice. The CDC has yet to recommend a particular food Americans should avoid.
Consumer Reports, a consumer-oriented research magazine based in the United States, advised people to avoid eating romaine lettuce until the cause of the E. coli outbreak is identified and removed from stores.
Consumer Reports added it could take time before any recall is secured and executed, a period during which consumers can potentially become infected. Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, which is the policy division of Consumer Reports, says the FDA must act fast to identify and recall the source of the outbreak.
The outbreak has affected the University community as well. As a precautionary move, all University dining halls replaced their romaine lettuce with spinach and mixed greens on Friday. Rachel Christensen, food and occupational safety manager of Michigan Dining, further described the University’s effort to keep its students safe.
“We are aware of the issue and have pulled all romaine lettuce from service as a precautionary measure,” Christensen wrote in an email to The Daily. “Thus far, we have received no recall information from our vendors.”
Daphne Mendez, assistant manager of the Hill Dining Center, said over the past few days the dining hall has been cutting back on the variety of lettuce served, and dining halls received the official mandatory order from Dining management to replace the romaine lettuce Friday morning.
“As far as we are concerned, (the romaine lettuce replacement) is going to keep going until we get the all clear,” Mendez said.
Mosher-Jordan dining hall employee Madeline Mello, an Engineering freshman, emphasized the different options the dining hall has to offer beyond the salad bar.
“As far as removing all of the lettuce, I think that’s enough to make me feel fine,” Mello said. “We already have three different greens. We have a lot of healthy options too, not just the salad bar: Vegan, gluten-free, MHealthy options.”