CDC: Romaine on Wendy’s sandwiches is likely source of E. coli

CDC: Romaine on Wendy’s sandwiches is likely source of E. coli

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Most of those who contracted E. coli in a recent outbreak in the Midwest ate at a Wendy’s restaurant in the week before their symptoms began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Although the CDC has not positively identified the fast-food chain as the source of the infections, most of those infected said they ate sandwiches topped with romaine lettuce there. The chain’s restaurants in the area have stopped using the lettuce in sandwiches as a precaution, the Columbus-based company said in a statement.

“Although the CDC has not yet confirmed a specific food as the source of this outbreak, we are taking precautionary measures to remove sandwich salad from restaurants in this region,” the statement said. “The lettuce we use in our salads is different and not affected by this measure. As a company, we are committed to maintaining our high standards of food safety and quality.”

At least 65 people have fallen ill in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania, including 10 who have been hospitalized, according to CDC and Michigan authorities. No one is aware that he died.

CDC reports ‘rapidly advancing’ E. coli outbreak in Michigan and Ohio

CDC said Friday it does not advise people should avoid eating at Wendy’s restaurants or that people stop eating romaine lettuce. Currently, the agency said there is no evidence that romaine lettuce sold in grocery stores, served in other restaurants or served at home is linked to this outbreak.

Several high-profile E. coli outbreaks have been linked to romaine lettuce. The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed in 2011, required farmers to test irrigation water, which may be contaminated with feces and bacteria. But the FDA has delayed its implementation.

“E Coli outbreaks associated with lettuce, particularly the “prewashed” and “ready-to-eat” varieties, are by no means a new phenomenon,” said Bill Marler, an attorney who specializes in foodborne illness cases. “Indeed, the frequency with which outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria have afflicted this country’s fresh food consuming population is astounding.”

What you need to know about E. coli symptoms and how to prevent infection

The outbreak joins several other high-profile incidents of allegedly contaminated food this year. The FDA and CDC were investigating a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to certain Jif-brand peanut butter products made at a facility in Lexington, Kentucky, which led to many recalls. Abbott Nutrition recalled 5 million units of baby formula after at least four infants fell ill, two of whom died. A Listeria outbreak linked to Big Olaf Creamery in Sarasota, Fla., prompted ice cream recalls in many states, and organic strawberries were the source of a hepatitis A outbreak this spring.

The source of the recent E. coli cases has been slow to emerge as state and local health officials surveyed people about the foods they ate in the week before they became ill.

The CDC is trying to determine the full extent of the outbreak, which officials say could extend beyond the four known states. Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system, a national database of DNA fingerprints of foodborne illness bacteria, to identify illnesses that could be part of this outbreak.

The CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses in the United States each year.

Food-borne illnesses cost $3 billion in health care. Almost half of illnesses are related to products, according to the CDC. Then, in descending order, it’s meat and poultry; dairy products and eggs; and fish and shellfish.