Between 2009 and 2018, 40 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli outbreaks were linked to leafy greens with romaine lettuce identified as the source of more than half of them, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Shiga toxins are poisons produced by some E. coli strains that cause severe illness in humans.
Most of the outbreaks cited in this study were not publicly announced, so many people may be surprised to learn that leafy greens were linked to an average of four E. coli outbreaks every year over the course of a decade. But according to the CDC, leafy greens are such a big source of E. coli outbreaks that they are second only to ground beef.
The 40 outbreaks in this study resulted in 1,212 illnesses, 420 hospitalizations, 77 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a form of kidney failure; and eight deaths.
STEC live in the intestines of cattle and other ruminant animals. These bacteria are shed in feces and can contaminate leafy greens when dust from neighboring ranches blows onto crops, when runoff gets into irrigation water or through direct contact. Investigations of recent outbreaks have identified neighboring cattle operations as a possible source of contamination.
Almost all leafy greens grown in the U.S. – 98 percent, are grown in California and Arizona. Some growing regions are used in the fall and winter, in the spring and summer, operations are moved to other regions. But regardless of the location, the study’s authors noted that the industry’s lack of recordkeeping and traceability technology has impeded public health investigations of these outbreaks. As noted Food Safety Attorney Fred Pritzker told the StarTribune earlier this year, recent romaine E. coli outbreaks only “ended” when the growing season for the implicated region came to and end. “We should not have to wait until the end of the growing season to declare ‘victory’ over disease,” he said.
Fred pritzker and the E. coli lawyers at Pritzker Hageman have represented clients in every major E. coli outbreak in the U.S. If you would like to request a free consultation with our experienced E. coli Team, please call us at 1-888-377-8900, text us at 612-261-0856 or, fill out the form below.