E. coli outbreak may be from Arizona lettuce farm

WASHINGTON (AP) - Lettuce grown in Yuma, Ariz., may be the
source of a widespread E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce that has
sickened at least 19 people and prompted a recall in 23 states.
Federal investigators are looking at a farm in Yuma as a
possible source for the outbreak, according to the distributor who
sold the lettuce.
Freshway Foods of Sidney, Ohio, said Thursday it recalled
lettuce sold in 23 states and the District of Columbia because of a
possible link to an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least 19
people - three with life-threatening illness.
College students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor,
Ohio State in Columbus and Daemen College in Amherst, N.Y., are
among those who were affected by the outbreak, according to health
departments in those states. The health officials said most of the
victims were sickened in April and have already recovered.
Vice president Devon Beer said Freshway Foods worked with the
Food and Drug Administration to trace the contaminated lettuce to a
Yuma grower, whom he would not identify.
The recall only applies to romaine lettuce with "best if used
by" date before or on May 12, when Freshway Foods stopped buying
its romaine from Yuma, Beer said.
Officials in Arizona also confirmed the investigation. Laura
Oxley, a spokeswoman for Arizona's agriculture and health
departments, said federal officials contacted them and told them
they suspected the source of the E. coli outbreak was lettuce grown
in the state. She said there were no additional shipments to stop
because the winter lettuce season has mostly ended for the year.
The Yuma area is the source of much of the nation's winter
lettuce crop, but farmers switch to other crops at the end of
Freshway Foods said Thursday it was recalling romaine lettuce
sold under the Freshway and Imperial Sysco brands. No contamination
was found at the company's processing plant, according to the FDA.
New York state's Public Health Laboratory discovered the
contamination in a bag of Freshway Foods shredded romaine lettuce
on Wednesday after local authorities had been investigating an
outbreak for several weeks.
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.
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.
The recall also affects "grab and go" salads sold at Kroger,
Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets and Marsh grocery stores. Bagged
lettuce at the grocery store is not involved in the recall so far.
Most of the recalled lettuce was sold in states east of the
Mississippi River. It 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.
Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed to this report
from Phoenix.
On the Net:
FDA: http://tinyurl.com/2g85o5k
CDC: http://tinyurl.com/2g7qk27
Freshway Foods: http://www.freshwayfoods.com/recall/

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

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