E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with lettuce or spinach, specifically “pre-washed” and “ready-to-eat” varieties, are by no means a new phenomenon. By way of illustration:
– In October 2003, thirteen residents of a California retirement home were sickened, and two people died, after eating E. coli-contaminated, pre-washed spinach;
– In September 2003, nearly forty patrons of a California restaurant chain fell ill after eating salads prepared with bagged, pre-washed lettuce; and
– In July 2002, over fifty young women fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 at a dance camp after eating “pre-washed” lettuce, leaving several hospitalized and one with life-long kidney damage.
Here are a few more examples:
August 1993 – E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to a salad bar; 53 reported cases in Washington State
July 1995 – Lettuce (leafy green; red; romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 70 reported cases in Montana
September 1995 – Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 20 reported cases in Idaho
September 1995 – Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7; 30 reported cases in Maine
October 1995 – Lettuce (iceberg; unconfirmed) E. coli O157:H7; 11 reported cases in Ohio
May-June 1996 – Lettuce (mesclun; red leaf) E. coli O157:H7; 61 reported cases in Connecticut, Illinois, and New York
May 1998 – Salad E. coli O157:H7; two reported cases in California
February.-March 1999 – Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7; 72 reported cases in Nebraska
July-August 2002 – Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 29 reported cases in Washington and Idaho
October 2003-May 2004 – Lettuce (mixed salad) E. coli O157:H7; 57 reported cases in California
April 2004 – Spinach E. coli O157:H7; 16 reported cases in California
September 2005 – Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7; 32 reported cases in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon
But we all know that the list does not end there. E. coli O21:H19 nearly killed two women at a Wendy’s in Utah. Who can forget the September 2006 outbreak associated with Dole Baby Spinach? Also, Taco Bell and Taco John’s in late 2006. 2008 saw E. coli outbreaks linked to lettuce in Michigan and the State of Washington – Spinach too in Oregon. And, there have been may others sickened in produce-related outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and other dangerous bugs.
So, what’s going on?