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California lettuce tied to E. coli outbreak

October 10, 2008|Tiffany Hsu | Times Staff Writer

California is the source of E. coli-tainted iceberg lettuce suspected to have sickened 36 people in Michigan, officials said Thursday.

"Illness dates, ship dates and delivery dates narrow the origin to California," said Jennifer Holton, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

The California Department of Public Health is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the state of Michigan, said Ken August, a spokesman with the California agency.

He said the source of the contamination was still unknown.

The culprit probably is industrial-size packages of iceberg lettuce sold to restaurants and institutions, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Although lettuce is the "common link" among all the cases, the produce is so perishable that state agencies were not able to test packages produced during the outbreak's time frame, Holton said. So far, all tests for E. coli in lettuce have come back negative.

The outbreak began in early September, with several victims at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Lenawee County Jail. Six Illinois residents also were sickened from late August to mid-September, Illinois health officials said.

Detroit distributor Aunt Mid's Produce Co. sold some lettuce linked to illnesses, according to the Michigan and Illinois health agencies. The company has stopped lettuce distribution.


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