The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with various state governments to track down the origin of two new E. coli outbreaks.
At this point, the agency says there are a lot of unknowns. What is known is that the illnesses have been caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 (STEC).
“We do not know what food is causing people to get sick or whether it involves an FDA-regulated food product,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “However, we have seen similar recurring, emerging or persistent strains of E. coli in recent outbreaks.”
“E. coli O157:H7 can contaminate many foods, and we cannot assume that the current outbreaks are linked to historically associated foods like romaine and other leafy greens,” the agency added. “There is no information currently to indicate that people should avoid any specific food.”
One of the E. coli outbreaks is being caused by a strain that is genetically related to a strain that caused the 2019 STEC outbreak linked to romaine grown in the California Central Coast Salinas growing region. To date, health officials have documented 23 cases and no deaths.
The second outbreak is being caused by a strain that is genetically related to a larger, diverse genetic cluster including the strain that caused the 2018 STEC outbreak linked to romaine and environmental isolates from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. To date, 21 cases and one death have been reported.
‘Transparency and early communication’
"We are issuing this update early in our investigation as part of our continued commitment to transparency and early communication,” Yiannas said. “We are also working toward making a new resource available soon on our website to provide early updates on new and active investigations.
Because the origin of the two outbreaks is still a mystery, consumers should take precautions when consuming uncooked produce. Produce should be carefully and thoroughly washed before serving. The FDA offers these guidelines for safe storage and preparation of produce.
The 2019 E. coli outbreak finally ended in January of this year, an outbreak linked to California-grown romaine lettuce. In total, 167 people across 27 different states were infected by tainted products. Of that number, 85 consumers were hospitalized and 15 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a type of kidney failure. Luckily, there were no deaths linked to the outbreak.