E. coli suspected in recalled lettuce

WASHINGTON (AP) - A food company is recalling lettuce sold in 23
states and the District of Columbia because of an E. coli outbreak
that has sickened at least 19 people, three of them with
life-threatening symptoms.
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that 12 people
had been hospitalized, and the federal Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention said it was looking at 10 other cases probably
linked to the outbreak.
Freshway Foods of Sidney, Ohio, said it was recalling romaine
lettuce sold under the Freshway and Imperial Sysco brands because
of a possible link to the E. coli outbreak.
College students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor,
Ohio State in Columbus and Daemen College in Amherst, N.Y., are
among those affected, according to local health departments in
those states.
The FDA is focusing its investigation on lettuce grown in
Arizona as a possible source for the outbreak, according to two
people who have been briefed by the agency. Donna Rosenbaum,
director of the food safety advocacy group Safe Tables Our Priority
and one of those briefed, said the agency held a phone call with
public health advocates Thursday.
Rosenbaum and other public health advocates have long been
pushing for stronger food safety laws. The House passed a bill last
year that would give the agency much more authority to police food
production, but the Senate has not acted on it.
The most common strain of E. coli found in U.S. patients is E.
coli O157. The CDC said the strain linked to the lettuce, E. coli
0145, is more difficult to identify and may go unreported.
The New York state Public Health Laboratory in Albany discovered
the contamination in a bag of Freshway Foods shredded romaine
lettuce on Wednesday after local authorities had been investigating
the outbreak for several weeks. The bag of lettuce came from a
processing facility that was also linked to the illnesses, the FDA
said. The agency would not disclose the name of that facility or
its location but said an investigation was under way.
E. coli infection can cause mild diarrhea or more severe
complications, including kidney damage. The three patients with
life-threatening symptoms were diagnosed with hemolytic uremic
syndrome, which can cause bleeding in the brain or kidneys.
It was not immediately clear why students on college campuses
were sickened. Freshway Foods said the lettuce was sold to
wholesalers, food service outlets, in-store salad bars and delis.
Susan Cerniglia, spokeswoman for the public health department in
Washtenaw County, where the University of Michigan is located, said
it doesn't appear that students who were sickened ate the
contaminated food on campus. It is believed they may have been
sickened at local restaurants, she said. Most of those sickened did
not live on campus.
The Erie County, N.Y., health department issued an alert late
last month that linked at least one diagnosis of E. coli to a
student who ate at a Daemen College dining facility. The alert said
twelve students had been sickened after eating at the school and
three students were hospitalized.
Kevin Montgomery of the Erie health department said Thursday
that one case of E. coli was confirmed at Daemen College and
another was suspected. All the students have now recovered, he
Jose Rodriguez of Columbus Public Health said that not all of
those sickened in Ohio ate on Ohio State's campus.
Rodriguez said 15 people were sickened in the Columbus area,
including seven confirmed cases of E. coli. Seven people were
hospitalized, including five students at Ohio State. He said most
of the cases have recovered but two of those sickened have not yet
been able to return to work.
Freshway Foods said in a statement Thursday that the FDA
informed the company about the positive test in New York on
Wednesday afternoon. The statement said "an extensive FDA
investigation" of Freshway Foods' facility in Sidney has not
uncovered any contamination at the plant.
The recalled lettuce has a "best if used by" date of May 12 or
earlier. The recall also affects "grab and go" salads sold at
Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets and Marsh grocery stores.
The lettuce was sold in Alabama, Connecticut, the District of
Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky,
Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York,
North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina,
Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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