Romaine Responsible for E. Coli Outbreak

4 mins read

By Colleen Dabrowski

Nineteen states have been affected by an outbreak of Escherichia coli, also known as E. coli, that Center for Disease Control (CDC) officials link to romaine lettuce harvested in Yuma, Arizona. Ingestion of a food item contaminated with E. coli often leads to illness within two to eight days after consumption, with symptoms ranging from diarrhea to stomach cramps to vomiting. According to the CDC, symptoms from ingestion of E. coli will usually resolve themselves in about a week. However, those with compromised immune systems, including those under five years old and those over sixty-five years old, are at risk of developing hemolytic uremic syndrome, also referred to as HUS. HUS develops about seven days after the onset of symptoms and is characterized by fatigue, decreased urination and paleness and indicates low kidney function. The CDC reports that most people recover from HUS within a few weeks, though it is fatal for some individuals. In this ongoing outbreak, eighty-four people have been infected and forty-two people have been hospitalized, nine of which have been diagnosed with HUS, a rate which is higher than most E. coli outbreaks.

Escherichia coli is a bacterium commonly present in human and animal fecal matter. Drew professor and retired public health official Dr. George Van Orden remarked on the source, which is still unknown, saying, “If it’s fecal-oral, it could be from the field [where the lettuce was grown]. [Contamination] usually occurs in the field, but that’s difficult to determine. […] They won’t know until they can get to the source and investigate.”  Fecal-oral refers to the transfer of disease from fecal matter to a person via ingestion. Another possible contamination source is from food handlers harvesting in Yuma. However, Van Orden states this “is uncommon.” New Jersey was the first state to report the outbreak, with seven cases catching the eye of local public health officials. Pennsylvania, however, has the most cases so far with 18 reported ill, according to the New York Times.

The Center for Disease Control advises food retailers and providers that they should not serve romaine lettuce until they are able to confirm with their suppliers that it does not come from Yuma, Arizona. Many Drew students have noted that Commons and the EC Food Court have continued to serve romaine lettuce in a variety of fashions. Marina Hahn (‘20) commented that they think “dining should be addressing it […] There is a lot of food served with romaine lettuce. It is a health concern and I don’t understand why they are still using it.” Kassey Glass (‘20) voices similar concerns, stating, “[V]egetarians on campus don’t have as many options […] Salad is one of those options and it could seriously be affecting those students.” A popular student-run Instagram account, @drewinstamemes, made a post questioning why Commons was still serving lettuce and the post quickly received over one hundred likes, indicating many students share this sentiment.

The student body eagerly awaits a statement from Treeline Dining services.

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