Detroit firm resumes lettuce packaging amid ongoing E. coli probe

FREE PRESS STAFF ē October 15, 2008


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Aunt Mid's production of large industrial-sized packages of iceberg lettuce salad at its Detroit facility has resumed while an investigation into an E.coli outbreak blamed on California lettuce used by the company continues, Michigan health and agriculture officials reported Tuesday.


The Michigan Department of Agriculture did product and environmental sample testing at Aunt Midís the last week of September and additional testing was conducted by the state health department, Michigan State University, the federal Food and Drug Administration and Aunt Mid's. Because lettuce from the outbreak was not available at the time of the testing, state health officials say those tests all came back negative for E. coli.

State agriculture officials say Aunt Midís is monitoring and testing each lot of its Fresh Pak bagged lettuce it produces for a 30-day period and is providing those results to the state, which will also randomly test production for any evidence of contamination.

A total of 50 cases of E. coli with the same genetic fingerprint have been reported since Sept. 1, including 38 cases in Michigan, nine in Illinois and three from Ontario province in Canada. The Michigan cases included a group of Michigan State students and some inmates at Lenawee County Jail whom authorities say ate contaminated lettuce from large commercial user bags sold by Aunt Mid's.

Twenty-one of those sickened have been hospitalized -- including one with hemolytic uremic syndrome -- but no known deaths have been reported. No new illnesses are expected because of the lapse of time and because the contaminated lettuce identified by authorities as the source is no longer available, state health officials said.

An investigation that included independent studies in Michigan and Illinois identified iceberg lettuce as the source of the illness and a Michigan Department of Agriculture traceback investigation determined that Aunt Mid's was the common processor of iceberg lettuce that was washed, cut and bagged.

How the lettuce, which was as identified as originating in California, became contaminated, remains undetermined, Michigan agricultural officials said. The California Department of Public Health is continuing its investigation into the origin and handling of the lettuce involved in the outbreak.

However, Michigan health officials remind that such traceback investigations take time because of the records that must be reviewed and data analyzed. Data from patients who reported being sickened must be carefully analyzed and tested to determine the origin of the illness and the food involved.



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