“E. coli” Outbreak Possibly Traced to Wendy’s Lettuce

Twenty-two of 26 surveyed cases recalled eating wendy's sandwiches with lettuce

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
E coli Bacteria close up
A recent E. coli outbreak has occurred in four states after customers ate contaminated romaine lettuce in sandwiches at a popular fast-food chain. Photo by fusebulb / Shutterstock

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that 37 people in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have come down with E. coli, a bacteria often transmitted through food. Twenty-six of them have been interviewed, with 22 confirming that they recently ate sandwiches with romaine lettuce at a Wendy’s restaurant. Despite this, health officials said eating at the restaurant chain and eating romaine lettuce are safe.

E. coli, like Salmonella and Listeria, is a foodborne illness. Practicing proper food safety minimizes the risk of contracting any foodborne illnesses. In her video series Nutrition Made Clear, Professor Roberta H. Anding, Director of Sports Nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, outlines easy steps to take to ensure safe eating habits.

The Facts on Contamination

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, estimates that each year in the United States, foodborne illnesses cause sickness in 76 million people,” Professor Anding said. “There is sickness in 76 million people, and it results in approximately 325,000 hospitalizations, and over 5,000 deaths.”

There are three major causes for food contamination: biological, chemical, and physical. Biological contamination usually occurs during the processing and preparation of foods onsite, such as preparers not washing their hands properly or forgetting to change latex gloves between the handling of raw meat and then vegetables. Cutting boards can also be a source, if a preparer uses one for meats then vegetables.

“Bacteria are the common cause of foodborne illness,” Professor Anding said. “It can enter the food supply during different stages of the processing, and most of it is killed or inactivated by adequate cooling or cooking procedures. Sometimes just being respectful of temperature guidelines can, oftentimes, minimize your risk of developing a foodborne illness.”

According to Professor Anding, 90% of foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria, many of which cause gastrointestinal consequences.

The Nitty-Gritty Facts of E. coli

Professor Anding said that the CDC estimates that 70,000 people per year become sick with E. coli. E. coli comes from fecal matter in the food or water supply. Washing one’s hands after using a restaurant bathroom is vital to prevent E. coli contamination.

“It can contaminate undercooked meat, unpasteurized apple juice, and certainly, there have been outbreaks,” she said. “Many of the food manufacturers are now looking at unpasteurized juices as a healthier alternative to pasteurized, but when you pasteurize a juice and you heat it to high temperatures, yes, you may kill or denature some of the beneficial compounds that are in that juice, but you’re also killing the pathogenic bacteria.”

Raw sprouts can also house bacteria like E. coli because they’re so difficult to wash. Once E. coli gets into a sprouting mix, washing the bacteria out of it is even harder than washing uncontaminated sprouts. For these reasons, Professor Anding recommends washing and eating sprouts at home, rather than at a salad bar, since the individual eating the food is more likely to use the most caution and be the most thorough when washing the vegetables.

Intensively washing vegetables, separating equipment used for raw meats from that used for vegetables, cooking food to its proper temperature, and always thoroughly washing one’s hands after using the restroom—and before handling any food—go a long way in the prevention of foodborne illnesses like E. coli.

Nutrition Made Clear is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily