Food & Drink

There's a multi-state E. coli outbreak. Here's what the FDA knows and doesn't know.

E. coli can be carried by vegetables, fresh meat, frozen meat or any number of different kinds of foods.
E. coli can be carried by vegetables, fresh meat, frozen meat or any number of different kinds of foods.

An E. coli outbreak that's touched seven states is under investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA's announcement of the potentially fatal food-borne illness via a website post and e-mail acknowledged neither the FDA nor the Centers for Disease Control knows where this outbreak started nor had they identified a common food denominator.

What they do know is six people in New Jersey, four people in Idaho, two people in Connecticut, two people in Pennsylvania and one each in Missouri, Ohio and Washington were infected between March 22 and March 31. The CDC says six people have been hospitalized.

E. coli symptoms can be as mild as harsh stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea and last only five to seven days. Or, especially in children under 5 and senior citizens, E. coli can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a form of kidney failure that can turn fatal.

What is E. coli? Our video explainer looks at what symptoms to look for, and how outbreaks happen.

The FDA said it's "working with federal, state, and local partners to determine what people ate before they became ill, where they bought and consumed it, and to identify the distribution chain of these foods — all with the goal of identifying any common food or points in the distribution chain where the food might have become contaminated."

Leafy greens, romaine lettuce in particular, caused the November and December E. coli outbreak that struck coast-to-coast in Canada and the United States. The final U.S. count was 25 sickened, of which nine were hospitalized and one died. A year ago, an outbreak traced to I.M. Healthy Soy Nut Butter hospitalized 12 people and sickened 20 others, most of them children, in 12 states.

Consumers should hew even closer to the basics of food safety — make sure to wash utensils and hands in hot soapy water and cook food to the proper bacteria-killing temperature.