The national E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce has claimed the life of one person in California and now affects nearly half of U.S. states.

Zee Krstic
May 02, 2018

  • The first death has been reported following a national E. coli outbreak stemming from contaminated romaine lettuce. The person who died first contracted the sickness in California. 
  • 23 new cases have sprung up since national agencies last updated consumers on the E. coli outbreak, bringing the total to 121. Of those who have fallen ill, 63 percent are female and the median age is 29 years old. 
  • 52 of those affected by the outbreak have been hospitalized, and 14 people have developed a serious and rare form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.
  • A total of 24 states have now been implicated in the E. coli outbreak. The newest states added to the list are Kentucky, Utah, and Massachusetts.
  • National agencies are still asking consumers to refrain from eating all kinds of romaine lettuce.
  • The FDA and CDC have yet to pinpoint the source of the national outbreak beyond the growing region: Yuma, Arizona. 

More than three weeks since the initial announcement of the outbreak, tainted romaine lettuce has claimed a life in California, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported the first death linked to the widespread E. coli outbreak currently rocking the nation. Since the last announcement made on Friday, another 23 cases have been added to the CDC's growing list, and three new states have been added, for a total of 24 states affected. 

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The outbreak, which initially began with 35 cases in 11 states, has spread to 121 people in the following areas: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The CDC reported a few more details about the outbreak with its latest update: Those who have contracted sickness from the contaminated lettuce range in age from 1 to 88 years old, and the median age is 29. More than half (63 percent) of those sick are female. And 14 people who have been hospitalized have also developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare condition where the kidney fails.

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Despite the magnitude of the outbreak and the severity of cases, the CDC and FDA have yet to pinpoint where exactly the outbreak has began. One producer in the Yuma region, Harrison Farms, has been linked to the romaine lettuce that caused eight cases in a correctional facility in Alaska. But many critics are openly criticizing national agencies and pushing for systemic reform after weeks of investigation have failed to turn up any leads.

The first case was reported on March 13, 2018, to federal health officials—but those sickened by the outbreak after April 11, 2018, might not be reported just yet as it takes up to three weeks for local officials to notify national agencies. 

Many have wondered why national agencies haven't issued a recall yet—unfortunately, romaine lettuce isn't packaged or sold with clear identification of where it came from, and many grocery stores re-brand the lettuce they purchase from third-party growers and producers. The CDC has asked Americans to stop eating romaine lettuce. Grocery stores have followed suit and many national retail outlets have pulled the product from shelves—but not all of them.

At Cooking Light, we've asked one of our writers to investigate how supermarkets and grocery retailers have responded to the outbreak, and we'll update this article with that information (and a link) as soon as possible. 

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Things have taken a turn for the worse with the first reported death during one of the country's worst E. coli outbreaks in over a decade. We'll update this article with more information as it becomes available, but you can keep up to date on this romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak by following Cooking Light on Facebook and Twitter, and signing up for our newsletters here.