The New Journos

Don’t eat Wendy’s sandwiches or salad with romaine lettuce, Consumer Reports warns

Consumer Reports is advising people against eating any Wendy’s sandwich or salad with romaine lettuce until more is known about a strain of E. coli that has at sickened nearly 80 people — and possibly more — in four states.

The non-profit advocacy group cited its food safety experts in urging a cautious approach until the fast-food chain can confirm the source of the pathogen and details how it plans to address the problem. 

“E. coli can be especially harmful to young children, infants, older persons and those with a compromised immune system,” James Rogers, CR’s director of food safety and testing, said Monday in a statement. “The goal is to minimize your risk of getting it, and until we know more about its source, it’s safest to avoid consuming Wendy’s sandwiches served with lettuce and any Wendy’s salad containing romaine lettuce.”

While the source of the outbreak is unclear, many of those who recently contracted E. coli reported eating lettuce at a Wendy’s location in Michigan, Ohio or Pennsylvania before getting sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Aug. 24. 

“Romaine lettuce served on burgers and sandwiches at Wendy’s was one of the most common ingredients eaten among the menu items, but 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,” the agency said.

Still, there is no reason for people to stop eating at Wendy’s or purchasing romaine lettuce, according to the CDC. “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,” it stated.

Larger outbreak?

Since its last update nearly a week ago, the CDC has not upped its tally of 37 infected and 10 people hospitalized, including 15 who live in Michigan, 19 from Ohio, two from Pennsylvania and one Indiana resident. Of the 26 of those who were interviewed as part of an agency probe, 22 said they ate at a Wendy’s in the week before they got sick. 

But the actual number of those sickened in the outbreak is likely higher than reported and could include more than four states, the CDC noted. In fact, state and county figures are already reporting higher patient counts.

Ohio’s Wood County on Monday reported 22 confirmed cases in the outbreak, as opposed to the CDC, which counts 19 for the whole state. Taken with the state’s count for other counties, they’ve been at least 34 cases confirmed in Ohio. 

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services told CBS MoneyWatch in an email that 53 cases had been confirmed, with 115 E. coli cases overall being investigated. The Michigan tally includes eight instances of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially deadly type of kidney disease that often requires dialysis.

The CDC did not immediately return a request for comment.

A Wendy’s representative said the company is cooperating with public health officials investigating the outbreak. The company also has discarded and replaced the sandwich lettuce at some eateries in the region where people were stricken. 

“The lettuce that we use in our salads is different, and is not affected by this action,” Wendy’s said.

Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy’s and its franchisees operate about 7,000 restaurants worldwide. 

Romaine lettuce and other greens like spinach and clover sprouts have been involved in at least 17 E. coli outbreaks around the U.S. between 2006 and 2019, according to the CDC.

E. coli outbreaks involving romaine lettuce sickened nearly 200 people across the country in late 2019, with regulators eventually pointing to cow feces as the likely culprit. The infected lettuce was grown downslope from from public land where cattle grazed in the Salinas Valley in California.

Four years ago, McDonald’s switched its lettuce supplier after its salads sickened more than 500 people in 15 states, with the cyclospora parasite found to be behind the infections. 

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