Michigan reports an outbreak of the bacteria E. coli around the state including in Metro Detroit.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Friday confirmed 43 cases, with more than 55 percent of the people having eaten at a Wendy's. Of the total number infected, 56 percent were hospitalized.
Health authorities are also investigating cases in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
The E. coli bacteria can cause food poisoning. Symptoms include diarrhea – often bloody, vomiting and fever. The illness onset dates range from late July through early August.
"While a specific food item has not yet been identified as the source of illnesses, investigations are ongoing and focusing on sandwiches topped with romaine lettuce (at Wendy's) ," the state agency said in a press release. "Currently there is not a recommendation to avoid eating at Wendy’s while the restaurant works with local public health departments to remove potentially implicated products."
The outbreak has been reported in 17 Michigan counties including Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Allegan, Branch, Clinton, Genesee, Gratiot, Jackson, Kent, Midland, Monroe and Muskegon.
Dr. Alexis Travis, senior deputy director of public health administration at the state health department, issued a statement:
“We are reminding residents in Michigan to seek medical attention if they experience symptoms of E. coli illness such as severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting or other gastrointestinal distress. Additionally, we urge residents to take proper precautions when handling food and practice safe food preparation.”
The state said it is working closely with local health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine the source of the illnesses.
Investigators are looking at Wendy’s, but the state says the issue may go beyond the chain, and have something to do with a food distributor. The CDC says that Wendy’s is removing the romaine lettuce used in sandwiches in the impacted states. The chain says it uses a different type of romaine lettuce for salads.
Symptoms of E. coli infection usually appear three to four days after the exposure but may appear in as short as one day or as long as 10 days, the state said. Symptoms often improve within five to seven days. Some infections are very mild, but others can be severe or even life-threatening. Younger children and older adults may be more likely to experience severe illness.
Prevention of E. coli is often directly connected to proper hand hygiene and food handling practices.
The state recommends washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol:
- Before and after handling food.
- After using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
- Before preparing and feeding bottles or foods to infants and toddlers or touching pacifiers or other things that may go in an infant or toddler’s mouth.
- After contact with animals or their environments, such as farms, petting zoos, fairs or even the backyard.
The state also recommends:
- Rinsing fruits and vegetables well under running water. There is no need to use soap.
- Always marinating foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter or outdoors. Never reuse sauce on cooked food used to marinate raw meat or poultry.
- Never placing cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Be sure to have on hand plenty of clean utensils and platters.
- Never letting raw meat, poultry, eggs or cooked food sit at room temperature more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer (one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cooking meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Consumers should use a food thermometer as color is not an indicator of “doneness.”
- Avoiding raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
- Avoiding swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools and backyard “kiddie” pools.