Aunt Mid’s to resume processing after outbreak

Aunt Mid’s Produce Co. plans to resume processing and shipping iceberg lettuce after product and environmental samples tested by the Michigan Department of Agriculture were negative for E. coli.

Dominic Riggio, president of the Detroit-based company, said that nearly 100 samples were tested by the company, a third-party lab and the state. All were negative, he said Oct. 6.

“Our plans are to start processing iceberg lettuce again very soon,” he said. “It depends on how soon I can get trucks loaded and how soon I can get trucks here.”

Riggio said Aunt Mid’s has disposed of all its iceberg lettuce since the Michigan Department of Community Health linked its product to an outbreak of E. coli in that state and Illinois Sept. 26.

“There’s nothing left to test here,” he said. “We feel like we should be able to get a retraction from the state health department or an endorsement from the state that says our product is safe to eat.”

Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture, said Oct. 6 that while all of the state’s product tests were negative for E. coli, the samples were taken in late September, after the last reported illness.

“We’re still looking at lettuce as the primary source of illness, and Aunt Mid’s is still our common thread,” she said.

Spokesman James McCurtis said the Michigan Department of Community Health linked the outbreak to Aunt Mid’s after clusters of illnesses emerged, including nine Michigan State University students and three University of Michigan students who ate at campus facilities. Five inmates at Lenawee County Jail also became sick.

As of Oct. 2, there were 35 reported illnesses and at least 18 hospitalizations in Michigan and six illnesses and five hospitalizations in Illinois. An Ohio resident also became ill while traveling in Illinois.

The Canadian Health Inspection Agency said Oct. 4 that two illnesses in Ontario appear to be related to the outbreak.

Public health officials in New York and Oregon have denied published reports that cases related to the outbreak have occurred in those states.

Riggio has declined to say where the company sources its iceberg lettuce. However, Jerry Wojtala, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s food and dairy division, said Aunt Mid’s was sourcing from multiple growers in multiple states, including California, when the outbreak started.