“Although the CDC has not yet confirmed that a specific food is the cause of this outbreak, we are taking the precaution of removing sandwich lettuce from restaurants in this area,” the statement said. “The lettuce we use in our salads is different and not affected by this action. As a company, we are committed to our high standards of food safety and quality.
At least 65 people have fallen ill in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania, including 10 who have been hospitalized, according to CDC and Michigan officials. No one is known to be dead.
The CDC said Friday it does not advise people to avoid eating at Wendy’s restaurants or to stop eating romaine lettuce. At this time, according to the agency, there is no evidence that romaine lettuce sold in grocery stores, served in other restaurants or in people’s homes is linked to this outbreak.
Several high-profile outbreaks of E. coli have been linked to romaine lettuce. The Food Safety Modernization Law, which was enacted in 2011, required farmers to test irrigation water, which can be contaminated with feces and bacteria. But the FDA delayed its implementation.
“E. Coli outbreaks associated with lettuce, particularly the ‘pre-washed’ and ‘ready-to-eat’ varieties, are by no means a new phenomenon,” said Bill Marler, an attorney specializing in lettuce cases. “In fact, the frequency with which the fresh produce consuming public in this country has been affected by outbreaks of disease-causing bacteria is astounding.”
The outbreak joins several other high-profile incidents of allegedly contaminated food this year. The FDA and CDC have investigated a multistate outbreak of salmonella infections linked to certain Jif brand peanut butter products made at a Lexington, Kentucky plant, prompting numerous recalls. Abbott Nutrition recalled 5 million units of infant formula after at least four children fell ill, two of whom died. A listeria outbreak linked to Big Olaf Creamery in Sarasota, Florida has led to ice cream recalls in many states, and organic strawberries were the source of an epidemic of hepatitis A this spring.
The source of recent cases of E. coli has been slow to emerge as state and local public health officials have asked people about the foods they ate in the week before they became ill.
The CDC is trying to determine the full extent of the outbreak, which agency officials say could extend beyond the four known states. Public health investigators use the PulseNet system, a national database of the genetic fingerprints of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses, to identify illnesses that could be part of this outbreak.
The CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick each year in the United States, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses.
Foodborne illnesses cause $3 billion in health care costs. Nearly half of illnesses come from products, according to the CDC. Next, in descending order, is meat and poultry; dairy products and eggs; and fish and shellfish.