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 recall comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified Freshway Foods on May 5 that a New York State public health lab in Albany found E. coli in an unopened bag of the company’s lettuce. “Multiple lines of evidence have implicated shredded romaine lettuce from one processing facility as a source of infections,” the FDA reports. According to the AP, the FDA is focusing its investigation on lettuce grown in Arizona as a possible source for the outbreak.
The Freshway Foods press release advises restaurants, distributors and retailers in affected states to throw out or refrain from using shredded romaine lettuce with the May 12 use by date. The company also advises consumers not to eat “grab and go” salads sold in in-store salad bars and delis at Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets and Marsh stores in those states. However, bulk, prepackaged romaine or bagged salad mixes containing romaine that were purchased in supermarkets are not included in the recall; Freshway Foods does not produce these products.
E. coli O145 causes a diarrheal illness often with bloody stools. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop a form of kidney failure called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly, the company said.
The condition can lead to serious kidney damage and potentially death, Freshway said.
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 states affected in the current recall are Alabama, Connecticut, 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.
The recalled romaine products also were sold for in-store salad bars and delis for Kroger (KR.N), Giant Eagle Inc [GIAEG.UL], Ingles Markets Inc (IMKTA.O), and Marsh stores in those states.
Consumers may call Freshway Foods’ information desk at 888-361-7106 (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday) with questions, or visit the company’s website, where the company has a list of the recalled products.