The Uglier Side of Lettuce

After a frightful two-year stretch in 2005 and 2006 that included two Dole spinach/lettuce outbreaks due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination, the resurgence of ground beef as a leading vector in E. coli cases must have caused lettuce to feel a little left out. 

The last month, with the announcement of a major national outbreak linked to shredded lettuce and yesterday's announcement of a three-state outbreak also likely linked to lettuce, feels a bit like the wakening of a very mean jolly green giant. 

Here's a brief look at E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to lettuce and other leafy greens over the past decade (or a little longer):
  1. in October 2003, thirteen residents of a California retirement home were sickened, and two people died, after eating E. coli-contaminated, pre-washed spinach;
  2. in September 2003, nearly forty patrons of a California restaurant chain fell ill after eating salads prepared with bagged, pre-washed lettuce; and
  3. in July 2002, over fifty young women fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 at a dance camp after eating “pre-washed” lettuce, leaving several hospitalized and one with life-long kidney damage.
 Here are a few more examples:
  • Aug. 1993  E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to a salad bar; 53 reported cases in Washington State
  • July 1995  Lettuce (leafy green; red; romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 70 reported cases in Montana
  • Sept. 1995  Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 20 reported cases in Idaho
  • Sept. 1995  Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7; 30 reported cases in Maine
  • Oct. 1995  Lettuce (iceberg; unconfirmed) E. coli O157:H7; 11 reported cases in Ohio
  • May-June 1996  Lettuce (mesclun; red leaf) E. coli O157:H7; 61 reported cases in Connecticut, Illinois, and New York
  • May 1998  Salad E. coli O157:H7; two reported cases in California
  • Feb.-Mar. 1999  Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7; 72 reported cases in Nebraska
  • Apr. 2004  Spinach E. coli O157:H7; 16 reported cases in California
  • Sep. 2005  Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 32 reported cases in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon
But we all know that the list does not end there. E. coli O21:H19 nearly killed two women at a Wendy's in Utah.  Also Taco Bell and Taco John's in late 2006. 

2008 saw E. coli outbreaks linked to lettuce in Michigan and the State of Washington - Spinach too in Oregon.


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