The worst E. coli outbreak in the US since 2006 is over, with five people dead and more than 200 sickened by tainted romaine lettuce, federal authorities say. The outbreak, which affected people in 36 states and caused at least 96 hospitalizations, was traced to the Yuma region in western Arizona and southeastern California, which supplies most of the nation's salad greens in winter, reports the Washington Post. The harvest season in the area is now over. The Food and Drug Administration says a strain of E. coli with the same genetic footprint as the strain in the outbreak has been detected in irrigation canals in the region, which would explain how the bacteria apparently spread to numerous farms, NBC News reports.
The last reported illness from the contaminated lettuce was June 6. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that more work needs to be done to determine how and why the strain "could have gotten into this body of water and how that led to contamination of romaine lettuce from multiple farms." He said that while the E. coli outbreak and other recent food scares might make it seem as if the number of outbreaks is increasing, the US has one of the safest food supplies in the world and "our ability to identify outbreaks has dramatically improved due to new information technologies and laboratory techniques." (Read more E. coli stories.)