California may be the source of the E. coli-infected romaine lettuce sickening people across the US and Canada.
A third of the 32 cases reported on Tuesday were reported in Los Angeles County, CBS reports.
Most of the lettuce bought and sold in Southern California is grown in the state, industry figures told the site.
‘Given the harvest cycle at that time, I think there’s a good possibility that it came from California, yes,’ Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), told CBS.
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This time, 32 people in 11 states have been struck down by lettuce-linked E. coli – 13 of whom are receiving hospital treatment. The CDC told anyone with romaine at home to throw it away
The LGMA was formed in 2007 after a particularly aggressive E. coli outbreak which sickened 200 people.
The group, made up of farmers across California, created guidelines and surveillance to spot infection issues earlier.
Unfortunately, Horsfall said, it’s going to be a tall order tracing this infection right back to the exact source.
‘[B]y the time they’re actually doing trace-back, there is no packaging left, there’s no product left,’ he said.
The strain causing the current outbreak – E. coli O157:H7 – is the same as the one which caused an outbreak last year from romaine and unspecified leafy greens grown in Canada.
It is not the same strain as the one from Yuma, Arizona, which sickened dozens and killed five earlier this year.
This time, 32 people in 11 states have been struck down by lettuce-linked E. coli – 13 of whom are receiving hospital treatment.
In all previous outbreaks this year the agency has been careful with its wording, saying officials couldn’t be sure which romaine we should be concerned about.
But now, they aren’t taking chances: the CDC said anyone with romaine at home should throw it away – even if you’re not sure it’s romaine but suspect it might be.
‘Do not eat any romaine lettuce, including whole heads and hearts, chopped, organic and salad mixes with romaine until we learn more,’ the agency said on Tuesday afternoon.
‘If you don’t know if it’s romaine or can’t confirm the source, don’t eat it.’
Most people infected with E. coli develop diarrhea and vomiting. More severe infections can lead to kidney failure.
The cases in the current outbreak started emerging on October 8.
Thus far, cases have been identified in California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Another 18 people have been sickened by romaine lettuce in the same time period in Ontario and Quebec in Canada.
Beyond warning consumers, the agency has told all retailers and restaurants to stop serving and selling romaine until they learn more about the outbreak.
‘This investigation is ongoing and the advice will be updated as more information is available.’
Experts say the warning could have disastrous consequences for all agriculture companies that deal with salad – whether they produce romaine or not.
Michael Droke, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney devoted to the areas of agriculture and cooperative law, told DailyMail.com: ‘A [warning] of this magnitude especially during the holiday week will impact not only romaine, but other leafy green vegetables such as spinach.
‘Retailers will be pulling romaine and possibly all other lettuce/leafy greens from their shelves (a process called quarantining) until the source is found.’