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08/08/18: Deadly Romaine lettuce E. coli O157:H7 outbreak may be linked to cow faeces

xRomaine-Lettuce-Heads.jpg.pagespeed.ic.480QyRarzWThe FDA just updated their investigation into the deadly Romaine lettuce E. coli O157:H7 outbreak this summer that sickened 210 people in 36 states, hospitalized 96 and killed 5. Ninety-six people were hospitalized, including 27 who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. It seems that canal water in the Yuma Arizona growing region is close to a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).

In other words, it’s likely that cow faeces contaminated with the pathogenic bacteria got into the canal water that irrigated the romaine lettuce fields in that area.

CAFOs are huge cattle operations that can hold more than 100,000 head of cattle at any one time. There is a cluster of romaine lettuce farms nearby. The Environmental Assessment report the FDA is working on will be made publicly available when it is complete.

Cows and other ruminant animals can carry E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in their guts. The bacteria does not make the animals sick. But the pathogens are released in the animals’ faeces, where it can contaminate the environment the cows live in. The faeces can then wash downstream to streams and canals and that water will be contaminated.

Government officials declared that the deadly E. coli O157:H7 romaine lettuce outbreak is over as of June 27, 2018. The illnesses in the outbreak can’t be explained by a single grower, harvester, processor, or distributor. But CDC analysis of canal water in the region found the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. More strains of E. coli were found in water and soil samples in the area.

Food safety attorney Fred Pritzker, who has represented many clients sickened with E coli O157: H7 infections and HUS, said, “It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the danger of having a 100,000 head of cattle in close proximity to irrigation canals that service a huge swath of prime produce growing fields. More importantly, it also points to the need to carefully monitor and test irrigation water in real time. ‘Too big to fail’ is not a valid food safety system, especially when the food product is not exposed to a kill step.”

This outbreak may be larger than officials suspect. Some people may not have heard of the outbreak, or haven’t been to a doctor for a diagnosis. If you ate precut romaine lettuce this summer and have been ill with symptoms of bloody diarrhoea, severe abdominal cramps, and nausea, you may be part of this deadly romaine lettuce E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. See your doctor for a diagnosis.

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