Fast food restaurant chain Wendy’s has taken the precautionary measure to remove romaine lettuce being used in burgers and sandwiches across six states after an E. coli outbreak.
“Investigators are continuing to collect different types of data to identify the food source of this multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections,” reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a September 1, 2022, update. “A specific food has not yet been confirmed as the source of this outbreak, but many sick people reported eating burgers and sandwiches with romaine lettuce at Wendy’s restaurants before getting sick.”
CDC officials noted that Wendy’s is fully cooperating with the public health investigations, and that the fast food restaurant chain uses a different type of romaine lettuce for salads.
“Investigators are working to confirm whether romaine lettuce is the source of this outbreak, and whether romaine lettuce used in Wendy’s sandwiches was served or sold at other businesses,” said the CDC.
E. coli Outbreak: 97 People Infected Across Half Dozen States
As of August 31, 2022, a total of 97 people hand been infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 across six states:
- New York
The very first illness was reported on July 26, 2022.
The CDC notes that it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak, and that the true number of sick people in this outbreak is also likely higher than the number reported because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for E. coli.
Details on the nearly 100 people sickened includes:
- Ages range from 3 to 94
- Median age is 22 years
- 55 percent of those sick are male
- 43 people have been hospitalized
- 10 people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that can cause kidney failure
- No deaths have been reported
Wendy’s released an updated statement on September 4, 2022, regarding the outbreak: “We are fully cooperating with public health authorities on their ongoing investigation of the targeted E. coli outbreak reported in certain states. While the CDC has not yet confirmed a specific food as the source of that outbreak, we have taken the precaution of removing the sandwich lettuce at some restaurants. The lettuce that we use in our salads is different, and is not affected by this action. As a company, we are committed to upholding our high standards of food safety and quality.”
State and Local Public Health Officials Investigating
The CDC said that state and local health official have been interviewing people about the foods they ate in the week before they got sick and have found so far:
- Among 67 people with detailed food history, 54 (81 percent) reported eating at a Wendy’s restaurant in the week before their illness started.
- People reported eating a variety of menu items, including burgers and sandwiches.
- Of 54 people with detailed information about what they ate at Wendy’s, 37 (69 percent) reported eating romaine lettuce served on burgers and sandwiches.
“Investigators continue to analyze data at the ingredient level to determine if there are any other possible foods that could be the source of the outbreak,” said the CDC.
The CDC stressed that it was not advising people to avoid eating at Wendy’s restaurants or to stop eating romaine lettuce.
“At this time, there is no evidence to indicate that romaine lettuce sold in grocery stores, served in other restaurants, or in people’s homes is linked to this outbreak,” said the CDC. “CDC will update this advice if the investigation identifies foods to avoid.”
What You Should Do if You Have E. coli Symptoms
The CDC recommends that you should call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these severe E. coli symptoms:
- Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102°F
- Diarrhea for more than 3 days that is not improving
- Bloody diarrhea
- So much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down
- Signs of dehydration, such as:
o Not peeing much
o Dry mouth and throat
o Feeling dizzy when standing up
The CDC says you can help public health officials solve the outbreak if you do the following if you have E. coli symptoms:
- Write down what you ate in the week before you got sick.
- Report your illness to your local or state health department.
- Answer public health officials’ questions about your illness.
The CDC says the following about E. coli:
- Most people infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli experience severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.
o Symptoms usually start 3 to 4 days after swallowing the bacteria.
o Most people recover without treatment within 5 to 7 days.
- Some people may develop serious kidney problems (hemolytic uremic syndrome, also called HUS) and need to be hospitalized.
For more information about E. coli, see the E. coli Questions and Answers page.
E. coli Can Lead to Life-Threatening Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)
Food Safety News reports that about 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.
“Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients,” said Food Safety News.
Food Safety News advised that people who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care.
“People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems,” concluded Food Safety News.