Health

E. coli outbreak from romaine lettuce traced to at least 1 California farm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said 59 people have now been sickened by the tainted lettuce. Officials said a water reservoir at Adams Brothers Farms in Santa Barbara County, Calif., tested positive for the bacterial strain and the owners are co-operating with U.S. officials.

U.S. regulator urges consumers to continue checking lettuce labels after dozens fell ill due to outbreak

Health officials advise consumers to continue checking the label before purchasing romaine lettuce. (Jessie Wardarski/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via the Associated Press)

U.S. health officials have traced a food poisoning outbreak from romaine lettuce to at least one farm in Central California.

But they cautioned Thursday that other farms are likely involved in the E. coli outbreak and consumers should continue checking the label before purchasing romaine lettuce.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said 59 people in 15 states have now been sickened by the tainted lettuce. That's seven more cases than previously reported, but regulators said they are fairly confident that the lettuce which first triggered the outbreak has been removed from the market. The FDA told consumers to avoid romaine lettuce just before U.S. Thanksgiving.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reported 27 illnesses are under investigation in the outbreak as of Dec. 6.

U.S. officials said a water reservoir at Adam Bros. Farms in Santa Barbara County tested positive for the bacterial strain and the owners are co-operating with U.S. officials. Officials from the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not determined how the water reservoir — which is used to irrigate lettuce — became contaminated.

The bacteria can get into water and soil through multiple routes, including waste from domesticated animals or wild animals, fertilizer and other agricultural products.

Romaine harvesting recently began shifting from California's Central Coast to winter growing areas of the U.S. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

The FDA's Dr. Stephen Ostroff said investigators have linked the tainted lettuce to multiple distributors and processors, suggesting it must have come from several farms.

A man who answered the phone at Adam Bros. Farms said he could not comment on the government announcement. According to the company's website, it only grows vegetable products, including broccoli, cauliflower, celery and various types of lettuce.

E. coli sickness

The U.S. government also narrowed the source of the outbreak to three California counties: Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Benito. That's down from six California counties under investigation when regulators began warning the public last month.

U.S. regulators said people should only buy lettuce with a label listing where and when it was harvested. Lettuce from outside the three California counties that was harvested after Nov. 23 should be safe to eat.

Romaine harvesting recently began shifting from California's Central Coast to winter growing areas, primarily Arizona, Florida, Mexico and California's Imperial Valley. Those winter regions weren't yet shipping when the illnesses began.

E. coli, the bacteria often associated with foodborne illness, usually causes sickness two to eight days later, according to health authorities. Most people with the infection get diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Some cases can be life-threatening, causing kidney failure and seizures.

With files from CBC News

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