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Consumers Union urges health officials to develop more effective response to foodborne illness outbreaks

CDC & FDA declare that E. Coli outbreak appears to be over

January 25, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal health officials need to do a better job alerting the public about foodborne illness and identifying what’s making people sick when outbreaks occur, according to Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.  The consumer group urged regulators to improve their response following the announcement today by the CDC and FDA that the recent E. Coli outbreak associated with leafy greens, especially romaine lettuce, appears to be over.

“It’s good news there have been no more reported cases since mid-December of people getting sick from this dangerous strain of E. coli, but it is worrisome that health officials have not yet identified the source” said Jean Halloran,  director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.  “This outbreak revealed significant problems with the way government agencies respond to foodborne illness. Investigations need to happen faster, CDC and FDA need to provide more information about what they are doing, and consumers need to hear sooner what they can do to protect themselves. Health officials and lawmakers should carefully examine how the government handled this outbreak and work to improve efforts to protect the public.”

The CDC previously indicated that the U.S. cases are a genetic near match to illnesses in Canada where the government found a correlation with eating romaine lettuce and urged consumers to avoid it.  Consumer Reports  previously recommended that consumers avoid romaine, but its  health experts now believe that is no longer necessary

While the CDC  says leafy greens are the “likely source,” it has said  that in the United States the specific type of leafy green is unknown.  The FDA announced today that it plans to continue working to identify the source of the outbreak.

“We’re pleased that the FDA is continuing its investigation into what caused this outbreak and made people sick,” said Halloran.   “While it is a relief that no new illnesses have been reported, that doesn’t mean we won’t see more cases in the future.  That’s why it’s so critical for the government to identify the source of this outbreak to ensure it won’t recur.”

According to the CDC, 25 people have been sickened by the E. coli outbreak in 15 states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington state.  The recent outbreak has caused one death in California, another in Canada, and at least 22 hospitalizations in both countries.

Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537 (cell) or 415-431-6747 (office) or David Butler, dbutler@consumer.org, 202-462-6262