As of April 20th, 2018, thirty-one people have been hospitalized and dozens more sickened by a large scale E. coli outbreak stretching north to south from Alaska to Arizona and west to east from California to New York. The source of the contamination has been traced to Romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona, an agricultural community that supplies produce nationwide during the winter months.
Many of the victims are suffering from kidney failure, which can result in death or a lifelong need for dialysis and other expensive treatments. E. coli attacks the kidneys and other organs, and health officials have warned this is a particularly virulent strain. Medical professionals are struggling to limit the damage done by the bacteria, but antibiotics have had varying levels of success so far.
Contamination of produce is particularly dangerous, as a single farming community can ship their fruits and vegetables all across the nation, which can make tracking the source of the infection more difficult. Unlike when restaurants are responsible for foodborne illness, outbreaks of E. coli originating in the food chain itself are more likely to affect people all over the country, requiring a greater degree of coordination from health officials, doctors, and nurses.
People are being encouraged to only eat Romaine lettuce if they can verify the origin was not Yuma, Arizona. Most grocery stores have already responded to the outbreak, but restaurants and smaller family markets might still serve or sell tainted lettuce. Though there are safe sources of lettuce, refraining from Romaine lettuce entirely is the safest course of action at this time.
If you or someone you love has suffered due to exposure to E. coli or other foodborne pathogens, recognizing who is responsible for the infection is important. It is reasonable to expect to produce suppliers, restaurants, and grocery stores to ensure the food supply is uncorrupted. Please, consult with an experienced attorney about your case.