CDC: New E. Coli Outbreak May Be Linked To Wendy’s Romaine Lettuce

Food & Drink

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning of a new Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 outbreak that so far has left at least 37 ill and 10 people hospitalized. While the CDC hasn’t yet confirmed a specific food source behind the outbreak, “lettuce” beware. Because lettuce is right now the leading suspect. And not just any lettuce, but Romaine lettuce. And not just any Romaine lettuce from anywhere, but Romaine lettuce specifically from Wendy’s restaurants. And not just any Romaine lettuce from Wendy’s restaurants, but the Romaine lettuce on Wendy’s sandwiches and burgers, which ain’t the same as the Romaine lettuce used for their salads.

Here’s a tweet from the CDC about this outbreak along with a picture of E. coli O157:H7 that makes it look a bit like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family:

Again, lettuce be clear. The romaine lettuce at Wendy’s is the suspected but not the yet confirmed cause. So, romaine open about other possibilities. This suspicion stemmed from the finding that 22 (86%) of the 26 outbreak victims interviewed had eaten at a Wendy’s restaurant in Michigan, Ohio, or Pennsylvania in the week prior to the start of their symptoms. And the most common food item eaten at Wendy’s by them was romaine lettuce served on burgers and sandwiches. But certainly there are other ingredients and food items served at Wendy’s otherwise it would be known as All Romaine Lettuce, All the Time. So investigators have to rule out these other items as possibilities too.

All of the reported cases have been in one of four states: 19 in Ohio, 15 in Michigan, two in Pennsylvania, and one in Indiana. Not surprisingly Wendy’s restaurants in the region have removed the romaine lettuce from their burgers and sandwiches. After all, when someone asks, “would you like a little E. coli O157:H7 on your sandwich,” your answer should be “no.”

That’s because E. coli O157:H7 is not your friendly neighborhood E. coli. Instead, it can be a very poopy one and potentially a bloody awful one, as I have indicated for Forbes before. It’s one of the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) because it produces Shiga toxin. You can also use the names verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) to describe a STEC if you want to sound impressive at a cocktail party and use more syllables in words. Symptoms typically begin two to five days after you’ve ingested E. coli O157:H7. Then it can be five to 10 days of some combination of fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Oh, and here’s something more to add to the fun: the diarrhea may be bloody.

Clearly, you don’t tend to say the word “yay” after saying the word “diarrhea.” But a bad case of “the runs” isn’t even the worst of what may happen when you’ve got E. coli O157:H7 in you. No, what’s even worse is HUS, which, in this case, is not short for Hardened Unique Storage or Head of User Services, but rather stands for hemolytic uremic syndrome. HUS is a potentially life-threatening condition where your red blood cells get destroyed and your kidneys fail. Your red blood cells are kind of important as they carry oxygen through your bloodstream to different parts of your body. Your kidneys are also kind of important since they help you excrete waste from your body in the form of pee. You may be more likely to suffer HUS from an E. coli O157:H7 infection if you are a child (meaning physically and not how you act) or over 65 years of age or have any condition that may weaken your immune system.

Thus, an E. coli O157:H7 infection is not something to mess around with, no matter how bored you may be. The CDC lists a number of symptoms that should prompt a call to you doctor as soon as possible. This includes having diarrhea that lasts for over three days and isn’t improving. Rarely should you say, “the past five days have been fantastic and lot of fun, with the possible exception of the continuous diarrhea.” Another listed reason to contact your doctor is if you have bloody diarrhea, meaning diarrhea with blood in it and not just diarrhea and you yelling, “bloody heck” every time you have to go to the toilet. And not peeing much may be a sign that “urine” trouble, so to speak, and that you have HUS, which again is a potentially life-threatening emergency.

This is the first E. coli outbreak to appear on the CDC’s list of E. coli outbreaks for 2022. Last year, 2021, had four such outbreaks: one from packaged salads, another from baby spinach, a third from cake mix, and a fourth from unknown food source. When the CDC said unknown food source, it meant that the culprit hasn’t yet been found. It didn’t mean that it consisted of people wearing blindfolds putting unknown foods in their mouths. Right now, the CDC still is calling this current E. coli outbreak an “E. coli Outbreak with Unknown Food Source” on its website.

That’s why, at this time, the CDC is not telling you to avoid eating at any Wendy’s restaurants, any Wendy’s food items, or any Romaine lettuce in general. Naturally, if someone ate half a burger with romaine lettuce and then got very sick several days later, you shouldn’t then say, “alrighty, leftovers,” and shove the remaining burger pieces into your mouth. Otherwise, you’d be playing a game of craps in more ways than one.

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