The CDC has attributed 31 more cases to the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine from Arizona, bringing the total number of illnesses to 84.
In a notice on its website April 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 42 people have been hospitalized, with nine developing a type of kidney failure. Illnesses have been reported in 19 states.
The CDC stated in its April 20 update that eight cases at a correctional facility in Alaska were connected to the outbreak, a development some hoped would spur a break in the investigation, but the Food and Drug Administration still has not named the source of the outbreak.
Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a Q&A-style update for members April 25 that the organization has asked investigators why they have not announced the name of the grower that supplied that facility.
In short, they are still chasing down leads.
“Based on our conversations with FDA, they do not yet know the grower(s) at the root of the outbreak,” McEntire said. “As part of the investigation, FDA collects records starting at the retail or foodservice location about their suppliers in a given timeframe (often weeks). Then FDA contacts each of those suppliers to understand who their suppliers are.
“At each step, the number of possibilities grows, and FDA traces several different ‘legs’ to see what they have in common,” McEntire said. “FDA has informed us that it is currently tracing many legs involving multiple processors and has not yet found a single commonality that would point to the source of this issue at the field level.”
Start dates for the illnesses now range from March 13 to April 12.
McEntire noted those additional cases do not necessarily mean the outbreak is ongoing, but the CDC and FDA continue to warn consumers, retailers and foodservice operators to avoid romaine from Arizona.
“Because of the lag time in reporting and verification, CDC wants to be sure additional cases do not come in that are more recent,” McEntire said in the United Fresh update. “The most recent illness started on April 12. CDC indicated that it could be up to 21 days from last illness onset before they are comfortable saying the outbreak is over.”
Romaine production was in transition when the initial alert came out April 13, and now all product is coming from California and other growing regions.
While the FDA continues to work to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, the CDC states that epidemiological evidence continues to point to romaine determined to come from Arizona.
Of 67 people interviewed, 64 reported eating romaine in the week before getting sick.