Dirty Romaine Lettuce

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The 2018 outbreak of E. Coli, linked to the Yuma, AZ produce region, began with the first case being identified in early April as reported by the CDC.  The CDC and FDA have stated that the infected lettuce should no longer be in circulation because its shelf life has expired. As the outbreak has ended, romaine lettuce is again available and cleared for public consumption.  The final tally is 197 people infected with 5 total deaths.

E. Coli (Escherichia Coli) is a Gram-negative, facultative anaerobe, bacilli and is part of the normal human microbiota, being found at low levels in the upper respiratory tract, moist skin, lower gastrointestinal tract, and urethra.  E. Coli has five currently recognized virotypes, or pathogenic types, that each are responsible for different medical conditions. E. Coli is spread primarily via fecal-oral route, by consuming undercooked meat or unwashed produce. It is also spread person-to-person via fecal-oral routes, primarily affecting child daycare centers. It can cause diarrhea and is best treated with hydration leading up to possible IV fluid infusions in hospitalized cases.

As of this moment, the CDC has released general guidelines for the public in regard to prevention and safety. The CDC is primarily advising the public to prevent cross contamination of produce and meat products in cooking areas, while also not eating damaged or “bruised” produce unless it is cooked.  All meats should be tested with a food thermometer to assure proper cooking temperature and internal heating. In the summer, the CDC also warns against swallowing water when swimming or playing in public pools, lakes, rivers, etc.

Produce safety and sanitation standards are set by the FDA with assistance from the USDA.  The FDA created standards of practice via the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which set for the standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce for human consumption.  When an outbreak like this occurs the FDA, in conjunction with the CDC, is responsible for informing the public of its extent and setting forth guidelines on how to react. With the enactment of FSMA, the FDA is able to work more toward prevention of outbreaks; when an outbreak does occur it is then easier to review the stages of production and locating the area of contamination.

To prevent future outbreaks, the company responsible will have to come out with a larger array of safety and quality assurance checks to allow for a more complete record of where they failed to meet standards and how long before machinery or other tools need to be replaced or sanitized in-between harvests. When the standards of production related to safety and hygiene are followed closely, contamination rates tend to be at their lowest.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/steps-healthy-fruits-veggies.html (Safety)

https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/ecoli-prevention.html (Prevention)