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Tainted Lettuce Recall Expands

Distributors in Oklahoma, Massachusetts asked to pull back products

TUESDAY, May 11 (HealthDay News) -- A recall of E.coli-tainted lettuce expanded late Monday as another food company said it was recalling lettuce grown on an Arizona farm currently under investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a potential source of the outbreak.

According to the Associated Press, California-based Andrew Smith Co., said it is recalling lettuce sold to Vaughan Foods of Moore, Okla., as well as a distributor in Massachusetts. Andrew Smith spokeswoman Amy Philpott told the AP that she would not identify the Massachusetts distributor because the lettuce in question is already past its expiration date.

In the meantime, the FDA is investigating the Yuma, Ariz.-based farm as a potential source of contaminated lettuce that has so far sickened 19 people nationwide. Possible E. coli contamination has already prompted the recall of Freshway Foods' romaine lettuce, which is sold in 23 states and the District of Columbia, the FDA said last week.

The agency said the lettuce may be linked to cases of E. coli illness in Michigan, Ohio and New York that involved the hospitalization of 12 people, three with potentially life-threatening symptoms, the AP reported.

College students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Ohio State in Columbus and Daemen College in Amherst, N.Y., have been among those sickened in the outbreak, according to local state health departments. Middle and high school students in Wappingers Falls and Hopewell Junction, N.Y., all fell ill, the AP reported, although no new cases among middle and high school students have been reported since April 25.

According to Ohio-based Freshway Foods, the lettuce was sold to wholesalers, food service outlets, in-store salad bars and delis in Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The recall covers lettuce with a "best if used by" date of May 12 or earlier, as well as "grab and go" salads sold at Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets and Marsh grocery stores, the AP reported.

The lettuce does not include any bulk or prepackaged romaine or bagged salad mixes in retail supermarkets, the company stressed.

"Freshway Foods does not produce bulk, prepackaged romaine or bagged salad mixes containing romaine for sale in supermarkets, and therefore these products are not included in this recall," the company said in a news release.

According to the AP, Freshway Vice President Devon Beer said the company has been working with FDA to trace the contaminated lettuce back to the (as yet unidentified) grower in Yuma, Ariz. The agency is currently trying to isolate the point in the supply chain where contamination may have occurred.

The health effects of E. coli infection can range from mild diarrhea to more severe illness, including kidney damage. According to the AP, the three patients with life-threatening illness have developed a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can trigger hemorrhage in the brain or kidneys. All are expected to make a full recovery.

Complicating matters is the fact that the strain identified in the lettuce is E.coli 0145, not the much more common and more easily identified E.coli 0157, the AP said. According to Dr. Patricia Griffin of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 5 percent of labs conduct tests to spot this rare strain of the pathogen.

Meanwhile, restaurants across the nation have been rushing to assure customers that their salads are safe to eat. According to CNN, Yum! Brands -- which owns chains such as KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Long John Silver's -- said on Friday that Freshway Foods does not supply lettuce to any of its restaurants.

More information

For more details on the recall, head to the U.S. Food and Drug administration.

-- E.J. Mundell

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