Romaine Recap: Officials Identify Cause of Worst E. Coli Outbreak in Over 10 Years

The contaminated lettuce sickened over 500 people and left five dead.

By Ethan L. Johns
June 29, 2018

Image: iStock

The chaos has subsided and the salad is safe. So what now? Now, the government seeks the source.

After weeks of investigation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported on Thursday that the recent E. coli outbreak tied to romaine lettuce was caused by water from a contaminated irrigation canal in Yuma, Arizona.

A strain of E. coli found in an unspecified irrigation system was a genetic match with the strains found on lettuce around the country—lettuce that sickened 200 people and killed five. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control have not provided information as to the location of the contamination, and will not do so until the investigation is complete.

Romaine lettuce has been safe to eat since the CDC announced the outbreak to be over—a moment marked by the fact that any wintertime romaine produced in the Yuma agricultural area had already passed its sell-by date.

“More work needs to be done to determine just how and why this strain of E. coli O157:H7 could have gotten into this body of water and how that led to contamination of romaine lettuce from multiple farms,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement.

He lauded advances in genomic mapping technology that will allow the organizations to trace outbreaks with increasing ease, and took a moment to assure Americans that the health agencies can only improve their capabilities in the future.

“The U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world,” he said. “This is true despite the fact that we also enjoy one of the world’s most abundant, diverse, and complex food supplies.”

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns