David Goldman / AP
Spoiled, chopped romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, is the source of an E. coli outbreak that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has plagued at least 53 people in 16 states.
A report released Wednesday by the CDC said 31 people had been hospitalized since consumers reported on 13 March that they were ill. Five people developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. No deaths were reported.
Since Thursday no recall is possible because the CDC was unable to locate any particular producer, supplier, distributor or brand responsible for the contaminated salad. But the officials warned consumers against shunning and throwing away any pre-cut Roman salad from the region, "even if part of it was eaten and nobody got sick."
"If you can not confirm the source of romaine lettuce, do not buy it or eat it," the CDC said in a statement.
E.coli are bacteria that normally live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. While most strains are harmless, recently found patients – 0157: H7 – are a specific burden that can lead to serious illnesses. The symptoms can be mild to severe, including diarrhea, which can be bloody.
The last reported case is from April 6, but the CDC said that someone who took contaminated products after March 29 may not have reported it yet. The gap between the time someone gets sick and the report to the health authorities can be up to three weeks, according to the agency.
Pennsylvania has so far reported a dozen cases, the highest number of all states. Idaho finishes second with 10. New Jersey, where the first case was reported last month, has had seven cases so far. In Montana, six people have fallen ill, while Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Washington reported three or less.
The agency said they traced the infection to romaine lettuce after questioning many of the sick people and asking about the foods they had eaten and other suspensions before they became ill. Almost all – 41 out of 43 – said they had eaten romaine lettuce the week before the interviews. According to the CDC report, it was "the only common ingredient among the salads that were eaten".
After inquiring in the restaurants where the interviewees had eaten, it became clear that the restaurants had used bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to prepare their salads. The CDC said the patients did not report whole heads or hearts of Romaine.
Officials said the current outbreak is not related to a recent outbreak of E. coli infections associated with leafy vegetables. The CDC said humans had been infected with another bacterium in the previous outbreak, as determined by DNA testing.