CDC, FDA Try to Find Source of E. coli Outbreak Connected to Romaine Lettuce

published Apr 30, 2018
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(Image credit: Thomas Foldes)

In a recent interview with Business Insider, foodborne-illness attorney and food-poisoning expert Bill Marler talked about the five foods he’ll never order at a restaurant. Although you might’ve expected to see rare cheeseburgers and those germ parades known as buffets on his list, the first item might seem like a surprising one — or at least it might’ve seemed surprising a couple of weeks ago.

“I’d eat sushi before I ate a salad,” Marler told the site. “I wouldn’t eat it at a 7-11, but I’ve eaten sushi at a good sushi restaurant.” The reason for his concern? E. Coli, the same nasty bacteria that has — so far — sickened almost 100 people in 22 states during a romaine lettuce-related outbreak that began in early April.

The Origin of the E.Coli Outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have both been tracking the outbreak, and have attempted to determine where it originated, and at what point in the supply chain the romaine might have been infected with the bacteria. Both organizations seem to be in agreement that the affected greens are from farms in and around Yuma, Arizona.

The CDC has suggested that we should all probably leave romaine lettuce — including hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, baby romaine, organic romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce — off our shopping lists unless we can “confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.” The agency also warns against ordering romaine in restaurants (and it has further instructed restaurants and retailers to inquire where their lettuce comes from and obviously not to serve or sell it if it’s from Yuma).

More Women Are Getting Sick Versus Men

Of the 98 people (and counting) who have sought medical treatment or who have been hospitalized in relation to eating this unfortunately nasty lettuce, the majority of them — a full 65% — have been women. Why? No one is entirely sure yet.

“The short answer is we don’t really know why we see this ratio being more predominantly women, we don’t exactly know the mechanism,” Dr. Daniel Eiras, an assistant professor of infectious diseases and immunology at New York University Langone Health, told ABC News. “I don’t think we can say that women eat that much healthier than men across the nation,” he added.

Some of Eiras’ theories are that that women seek treatment more frequently than men, that women develop more symptoms of E.coli infection than men, or that women take more medication than men, which could affect the “microbiome of the gut.” (E. coli infections affect the gut, causing a host of digestive issues including vomiting, bloody diarrhea and severe stomach cramps).

Until the source of this outbreak is found, it’s probably best if we all just skipped our sad desk salads.