June 29 (UPI) — Contaminated irrigation canals in Arizona may have helped spread E. coli bacteria into fields of romaine lettuce in the latest outbreak, government officials said.
From March 13 to June 27, five people died and 210 people in 36 states have become ill from the bacteria, which put almost 100 people in the hospital, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said.
Some who became ill did not eat the lettuce but had close contact with someone who did, the CDC said.
Officials said E. coli in the outbreak was traced to romaine lettuce grown around Yuma, Ariz. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are cautioning people to avoid romaine lettuce unless they can be certain it wasn’t grown in the Yuma area.
“To date, CDC analysis of samples taken from canal water in the region has identified the presence of E. coli … with the same genetic fingerprint as the outbreak strain,” the FDA said.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said the outbreak has ended but work needs to be done to determine how and why this strain of E. coli got into the canals in Yuma, and how that led to contamination of lettuce from multiple farms.
“The outbreaks that have occurred over the past few weeks highlight the all-too-real consequences of foodborne illness,” Gottlieb said. “They also provide a roadmap of where we must head to prevent these things from happening in the first place, and to continue to deliver on our consumer-protection commitments.”