Back in late April, at least 18 people fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating at Jungle Jim’s restaurant in Miramichi, New Brunswick. Two months later, when Canadian health officials finally linked the illnesses to romaine lettuce served at the restaurant, they also announced that matching infections had cropped up in both California and Quebec.
But that was all the information they provided, and it prompted a number of questions about the California connection: Did Californians travel to New Brunswick and eat at Jungle Jim’s, or did the infections occur in California? Were they infected near late April? Did the E. coli strains match genetically? Did they eat romaine lettuce?
For more than a week, no one would say. But on Thursday, the California Department of Public Health provided Food Safety News with some answers.
The California infections occurred in California — none of the people sickened had been traveling to Canada. The state health department spokesman would not say how many Californians were involved in the outbreak.
However, their infections occurred in April, near the time of the New Brunswick outbreak. The official said the cases share “common food item consumption” and that the strains implicated in California and Canada were indistinguishable from one another when analyzed through pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE).
In short, the evidence strongly suggests that Californians and Canadians were separately infected with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 after contact with the same batch of romaine lettuce. The majority of romaine lettuce grown between April and October comes from California, and this lettuce may have come from packages that intermingled product from multiple farms.
The California Health Department would not provide any information about the grower or retailer of the lettuce, but said that the product has long expired and no longer poses a public health threat.
Since the California connection first surfaced in a June 29 press release and CBC News story, Food Safety News has been contacting a number of public health agencies in search of more information about the connection.
FSN reached out to the California Department of Public Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the New Brunswick Department of Health, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. All either refused to comment or suggested that FSN contact one of the other agencies.
It is unclear whether or not the California Health Department, or any other agency, is engaged in an active investigation into these infections.
FSN will continue covering this outbreak as more details come to light.© Food Safety News