Five deaths have been attributed to an E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce that originated in the Yuma, Arizona area.
As of June 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 197 people in 35 states had become ill. Of those, 89 people were hospitalized. An unusually high percentage, 26 patients, developed a type of kidney failure.
To date, CDC has not identified the exact source of contamination. However, the virulence of the strain indicates the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli 0157:H7. Officials say that this marks the worst multi-state outbreak since 2006 when contaminated spinach caused 238 illnesses and five deaths.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified several people across the country infected with the same DNA fingerprint of E. coli 0157:H7.
This most recent crisis has galvanized a Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force to prevent future tragedies. Members include: Arizona and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements, the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers and other stakeholders.
Arizona and California are the prime production areas for romaine lettuce with Arizona comprising about a quarter of the acreage, harvesting from early November to late April. When Arizona finishes, the California crop comes on stream.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention June 1, 2018 news release