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E. coli outbreak claims two lives

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, several states, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the Public Health Agency of Canada are investigating an outbreak of E. coli that has resulted in two deaths and nearly 60 illnesses in the United States and Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified Romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak in Canada; however, the CDC has not identified what food likely caused this foodborne illness in the United States, and no public agency has contacted any Romaine lettuce grower, shipper or processor and requested that they either stop shipping or recall product already in the marketplace.

Illnesses have been reported in 13 states -- California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington -- as well as Canada's eastern provinces. Illnesses started on dates from Nov. 15 through Dec. 8, 2017.

"Even if this outbreak is actually confirmed to be caused by Romaine lettuce, it’s important to recognize this is a highly perishable product with a limited usable shelf life and it’s highly unlikely a specific affected lot would still be available for sale or in a home refrigerator with the last U.S. illness being reported on December 8 and the last Canadian illness reported December 12," according to a statement issued by the United Fresh Produce Association, the Produce Marketing Association, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Western Growers, California Leafy Greens Agreement and Arizona Leafy Greens Agreement.

Whole genome sequencing is being performed on samples of bacteria making people sick in the United States to give information about whether these illnesses are related to the illnesses in Canada. Preliminary results show that the type of E. coli making people sick in both countries is closely related genetically, meaning the ill people are more likely to share a common source of infection.

"Food safety remains a top priority of leafy greens farmers, shippers and processors and the industry has robust food safety programs in place that incorporate stringent government regulatory oversight," the organizations said in a statement. "Our leading produce industry associations have and will continue to cooperate fully with public health officials investigating this foodborne illness outbreak. Anytime we see an outbreak of any foodborne illness, our hearts go out to the victims."