This strain is especially dangerous, health officials said, and the toxins it gives off can damage the kidneys. In the current outbreak, half of those infected have been hospitalized, a rate that is much higher than in other E. coli outbreaks, said Matthew Wise, the C.D.C.’s deputy branch chief for outbreak response.
Steve Feldberg was standing in his kitchen Tuesday in Montclair, N.J., preparing dinner and feeling stymied. He pored over the lettuce he bought over the weekend at the local farmer’s market. “I think it’s romaine,” he said hesitantly. “But it’s not classic romaine. So we’re taking a picture and emailing it to the hydroponic farm to find out, before we eat it.”
Health officials had some other worrying news for Thanksgiving week. The C.D.C. and the United States Department of Agriculture have been tracking a yearlong outbreak of Salmonella, which has been linked to a variety of raw turkey products, including ground turkey and some live turkeys (also some pet food).
A spokesman for the U.S.D.A. urged consumers to prepare turkey by following precautions such as careful hand washing to avoid cross contamination, and cooking poultry thoroughly.
Determining the exact cause of food-borne outbreaks has long stymied investigators, especially those that affect leafy greens. Contamination often originates with livestock that are raised or fed near produce farms. But it is not always clear how the pathogens travel to fields of vegetables. Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer at the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, an industry group, said the E. coli outbreak of last spring prompted growers in Arizona and California to embrace ramped up cleaning of equipment and they agreed to triple the distance between cattle feed lots and lettuce farms. “E. coli and other pathogens don’t spontaneously appear in lettuce fields,” he said. “They have to come from someplace else.”
But some public health experts said the frequency of food-borne illness outbreaks points to the need for bolder action by both the industry and federal government, especially when it comes to tracing contaminated produce.
Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, said the industry has resisted more robust measures like the mandatory electronic tracing of produce after it leaves the field.