SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 53 people across the state are sick with food poisoning from a specific strain of E. coli linked to eating sandwiches with romaine lettuce at Wendy’s.
That number is expected to rise since there are dozens more cases, which have not undergone genomic sequencing.
There are also additional cases linked to the outbreak in three other states: Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
Dr. Matthew Sims is the is the director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health.
“E. coli is unfortunately one of those things that’s always around to a certain extent,” Sims explained.
He said tracking down the cause is not always easy.
“They do think it’s related to one source probably. But it’s still hard to figure out,” Sims said.
He emphasized the most important thing people can do is pay attention to the symptoms.
“If you do develop bad diarrhea, particularly bloody diarrhea, it’s a reason to talk to your doctor,” Sims said.
Bill Marler is a food safety lawyer who has been in the business for over 30 years.
“It’s not unusual in an E. coli outbreak like this that I may represent 80 or 90 percent of the people who get sick,” Marler explained.
In fact, he started to connect the dots to an outbreak in Michigan and Ohio before it was being publicized by health authorities.
“What we’re doing now is seeing the counting of these. And I would expect we’re going to be well over 150 by the time this is over, unfortunately,” Marler said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday at least 38 people had been hospitalized across the four states. Marler has been retained by 13 people in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He has filed two lawsuits in Ohio and one in Michigan pertaining to this outbreak.
“There are some pretty severe cases. We’ve been contacted by four families, who either their child or an adult has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS, which is acute kidney failure,” Marker explained.
Marler says he tracked the the E. coli down to romaine lettuce on Wendy’s burgers.
“I pretty much narrowed it down to three suppliers in California. That’s where this lettuce is grown this time of year,” Marler said.
Wendy’s issued a statement saying:
“We are fully cooperating with public health authorities on their ongoing investigation of the regional E. coli outbreak reported in certain midwestern states. While the CDC has not yet confirmed a specific food as the source of that outbreak, we have taken the precaution of discarding and replacing the sandwich lettuce at some restaurants in that region. The lettuce that we use in our salads is different, and is not affected by this action. As a company, we are committed to upholding our high standards of food safety and quality.”
Marler said the problem is bigger.
“The fact that we’re having this conversation again today shows the failure of frankly the FDA and the leafy green industry to get their act together,” Marler said.
Health officials said the window of opportunity for infection was between July 26 to Aug. 8.