Public health officials are warning of a “fast-moving” E. coli outbreak impacting people in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The source of the outbreak isn’t yet confirmed; however, “many sick people” reported eating a sandwich from Wendy’s that contains romaine lettuce, according to a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The outbreak has so far caused 37 illnesses and 10 hospitalizations but no deaths, per the statement.
Wendy’s is taking precautionary steps and is “fully cooperating with the investigation,” per the CDC. The fast food chain is removing the romaine lettuce used in sandwiches from restaurants in the affected regions. The CDC notes that lettuce used in Wendy’s salads is different from the romaine lettuce thought to be the cause of the outbreak. The agency is not currently advising people to stop eating at Wendy’s at this time.
The CDC also hasn’t identified other sources of the romaine lettuce that is suspected to be the cause of the illnesses. “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,” the statement said.
E. coli are bacteria found in a number of places, including in the intestines of people and animals and in foods. Most strains of the bacteria are harmless, the CDC says, though some can make you sick, causing a range of unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea, severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and sometimes fever, as well as complications like a urinary tract infection, pneumonia, or respiratory illness.
The CDC’s statement on the ongoing outbreak warns that if you have any of the following E. coli symptoms, you should contact a health care provider immediately:
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- Bloody diarrhea
- Vomiting to the point that you can’t keep liquids down
- Dehydration symptoms (like not peeing much or having very dark urine, dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when you stand up)
Officials are also asking people to note what they’ve eaten recently if they experience E. coli symptoms, so the CDC can deduce what’s causing the current outbreak. Specifically, you should write down what you ate during the week before you got sick and report your illness to either your local or state health department.
Regardless of where you live, you can prevent foodborne illnesses by following a few simple steps while preparing and eating food, the CDC says:
- Clean your preparation spaces (like kitchen countertops) and kitchen utensils.
- Wash your hands before you begin cooking.
- Wash produce under running water (before peeling or cutting it).
- Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods.
- Use a thermometer to make sure your food is cooked at a safe temperature. (This guide from the US Department of Health & Human Services provides info on how hot your food needs to get to kill germs.)
- Make sure you keep perishable foods chilled in the refrigerator and thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator (not on your kitchen counter).
If you’re trying a new recipe or working with a food you’re not sure how to prepare, make sure to follow the instructions on the packaging (if they come with it) and check out our list of food safety mistakes you should always be mindful of here.
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