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E. coli probe spurs voluntary lettuce recall

by Misti Crane, Columbus Dispatch

In the midst of an investigation into an E. coli 0145 outbreak that has sickened more than 20 people in three states, Ohio investigators found another potentially deadly invader in the nation's food supply.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture was testing a bag of shredded romaine lettuce from Freshway Foods last week and found E. coli, but not the type responsible for the outbreak in Ohio, Michigan and New York that prompted a recall last week by the Sidney, Ohio, company.

The discovery has led another company, California-based Andrew Smith Co., to recall about 1,000 cartons of produce that went to two clients that then processed the romaine before sending it on to food-service establishments. Some of it could still be in circulation.

Because lettuce in the Ohio sample came from the same farm as the lettuce in the cartons, Andrew Smith decided to issue the recall privately Friday for lettuce that was shipped in mid-April, Andrew Smith spokeswoman Amy Philpott said.

She would not name the farm but said it is in Yuma, Ariz.

Each carton contained about 45 pounds of lettuce, about 23 pounds of which actually ends up being shipped, Philpott said. That means Andrew Smith recalled about 23,000 pounds of romaine that could have been sold to restaurants and other establishments and consumed.

The recall was issued "out of an abundance of caution" after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notified the company of the positive test in Ohio, Philpott said. The romaine has not been linked to illnesses, she noted.

Illnesses caused by E. coli other than the most common type - 0157 - often go unreported because testing for those strains is limited.

None of the lettuce was sold in grocery stores, Philpott said. The recall involved only romaine that was "still in commerce" and affected two companies, one of them in Oklahoma, she said.

One of Andrew Smith's customers, Vaughan Foods of Oklahoma, which supplies processed and packaged lettuce to restaurants and other food-service facilities, is recalling romaine lettuce with use-by dates of May 9 and May 10, the FDA said yesterday.

Freshway is a customer of Andrew Smith but was not part of last week's recall, Philpott said.

Devon Beer, vice president of Freshway, said yesterday that he was awaiting word from the FDA about the sample tested in Ohio. He would not say whether Andrew Smith supplied that lettuce.

State officials have said they don't know what specific variety of the bacteria was in the lettuce, but DNA tests that look at the toxin produced by the bacteria have revealed that it isn't a match to the outbreak.

Samples were sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA yesterday, said Dr. Maya Achen, supervisor of the Ohio Agriculture Department's microbiology laboratory.

It's possible that the strain found in the romaine is also E. coli 0145 but is not a genetic match to the outbreak, said Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Jen House.

Today, Seattle attorney Bill Marler plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of Ohio State University freshman Richard Cardinale against Freshway and unnamed manufacturers and distributors. Cardinale, 18, was hospitalized in mid-April with E. coli 0145, according to the complaint.

The CDC said 12 of the people sickened in the outbreak were hospitalized and three developed a life-threatening condition called hemolytic-uremic syndrome.

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