FDA Releases New Outbreak Investigation Communication Tool
By Ryan Maus
It was about a year ago when an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with romaine lettuce from Salinas, California occurred. Coincidently, a year later the FDA and CDC are investigating three separate outbreaks caused by three distinct strains of E. coli O157:H7 (as determined by Whole Genome Sequencing) associated with unknown food sources. Investigations thus far have indicated: The strain identified in the first outbreak has caused 21 illnesses and 1 death and was previously associated with a 2018 romaine lettuce outbreak. The implicated food may have been served at a restaurant identified by a cluster of individuals who became ill after eating there.
The strain identified in the second outbreak has caused 23 illnesses and was previously associated with a 2019 romaine lettuce outbreak. In traceback interviews, those becoming ill reported eating various types of leafy greens (iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, mixed bag lettuce, and spinach) in the week before they became ill.
The strain identified in the third outbreak has caused 12 illnesses, but has not yet been associated with a previous outbreak. However, a strain closely related to the outbreak strain was recently detected in romaine lettuce recalled on November 6, 2020. While traceback interviews indicate that those who became ill ate various types of leafy greens (romaine lettuce, spinach, iceberg lettuce, and red leaf lettuce) the week prior to illness onset, a direct link to the recalled romaine lettuce is still under investigation. Recent recalls, other than romaine lettuce, include organic whole elder berries for Salmonella, raw dog food for Salmonella, salad kits for STEC O26, glass bottled products for residual chlorine, and various products for undeclared allergens. Details are outlined as follows:
Organic whole elder berries distributed to 159 stores were recalled for Salmonella on November 2. Coincidently, uncooked elder berries are toxic, and indicated so in labelling.
Raw frozen dog food was recalled for Salmonella on November 13. Salmonella can persist in the frozen product, causing dogs who consume the product to become ill as well as humans who handle the contaminated product. Salad kits were recalled for E. coli STEC O26 on November 17. However, the product was likely consumed or disposed of before the recall because the use-by date occurred on November 8.
Various glass bottled products were recalled for residual chlorine on October 30. The residual chlorine likely resulted from an issue with the bottle sanitizing process, resulting in a strong sanitizer odor that may affect the taste and quality of the product. Various products have been recalled for undeclared allergens by FDA and FSIS. These include trail mix (undeclared almonds), mixed veggie cups with dip (undeclared egg), macaroni and cheese (undeclared egg), gluten free battered halibut (undeclared wheat and milk), and frozen mac & cheese bites (undeclared soy).