(WXYZ) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet confirmed what’s causing the current E. coli outbreak that’s sickened more than 37 people in four states.
But many of those who fell ill reported eating sandwiches with lettuce at Wendy’s fast-food chain.
Unfortunately, E. coli contamination of crops like lettuce do happen and they can be difficult to prevent. Here’s why: E. coli is found in the intestines of people and animals, and human or animal feces that’s infected with E. coli can end up contaminating crops a few different ways. The bacteria can get into farmer’s fields through irrigation water, rainwater runoff and livestock that’s close by.
Now lettuce is often the culprit because fresh leafy greens are mostly grown outside and close to the ground. So, they’re just more vulnerable to contaminated water. However, even the wind and air transfer E. coli to lettuce.
Also, one other reason why leafy greens are an easy target for E. coli is because we tend to eat them raw, whereas other veggies get cooked more often, which can kill the bacteria.
Right now, the CDC is not asking people to avoid eating at Wendy’s. As a precaution, the fast-food chain has pulled the lettuce they used in sandwiches. Plus, the investigation is still ongoing.
So, we don't know for certain whether lettuce is behind this outbreak or if there’s more than one restaurant chain involved.
Also, the CDC has said that lettuce at grocery stores do not appear to be linked in this current outbreak. So please don’t avoid leafy greens as they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. But here’s what you can do:
- If you’ve recently eaten at Wendy’s, write down what you ate
- Watch for stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting
- Call your doctor if you develop a fever higher than 102˚F, bloody diarrhea and a lack of urination, or color loss in the cheeks and inside the lower eyelids
- Know that it can take up to 10 days for symptoms to appear
Most people get better within five to seven days, but younger children and older folks are more likely to develop severe illness. Roughly 5% to 10% of infected people will develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially life-threatening complication. Never be shy to reach out to your health care provider if you have questions or concerns.