Foodborne disease outbreaks are becoming increasingly common, thanks to conventional agricultural and confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) practices. According to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 25,606 foodborne infections, 5,893 hospitalizations and 120 deaths from food poisoning in 2018.1
Preliminary data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network for 2017 indicated there were 24,484 infections, 5,677 hospitalization and 122 deaths that year,2 but the CDC’s finalized outbreak surveillance report3,4 for 2017 brought those numbers down to 14,481 illnesses, 827 hospitalizations and 20 deaths.
Between 2009 and 2015, there were 5,760 reported outbreaks resulting in 100,939 illnesses, 5,699 hospitalizations and 145 deaths.5 Contaminated vegetables were responsible for 10% of these illnesses. Chicken was identified as the food category responsible for the most outbreak-associated illnesses (12%).
E. Coli-Tainted Lettuce Wreaks Havoc Third Year in a Row
The Thanksgiving holidays of 2018 were less than bright for many last year, as contaminated romaine lettuce sickened 62 Americans with E. coli. In the last week of November 2019, the CDC issued a food safety alert stating it is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas, California, region.6
According to the CDC, illnesses were reported starting September 24, 2019. As of November 25, 2019, 67 cases had been reported across 19 states, 39 of which required hospitalization.7 Six persons developed kidney failure. Fortunately, no one has died as of yet.8 As reported by The Washington Post November 26:9
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending that consumers avoid romaine from the Salinas region.
Remarkably, the specific E. coli strain (O157:H7) causing the new outbreak is genetically indistinguishable from last year’s and another one in late 2017. Last month, the FDA retroactively identified an outbreak involving romaine lettuce that occurred in late summer, causing 23 illnesses.
Notably, the 2018 Thanksgiving outbreak was not the first one that year either. It was preceded by the biggest outbreak in the United States of E. coli illness in more than a decade, with 210 illnesses, including five deaths, linked to romaine from the winter growing region around Yuma, Ariz.
Look for Harvest Location Labels on Your Purchased Greens
Last year, authorities were unsure of the origin of the contaminated lettuce, prompting improved labeling detailing where the produce was grown. As reported by California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (CA LGMA):10
Over the past year, leafy greens producers in California and Arizona have been placing Harvest Location Labels on packages containing romaine lettuce to help consumers identify where product was grown.
These stickers are something different than the address of the company responsible for packing the product that is usually printed on the back of packages and is required by law.
The Harvest Location Label can take a few different forms. Products like Romaine Hearts are often packaged right after harvest in the field. Their Harvest Location Label will look similar to these: