After E. Coli Outbreak, CR Experts Warn Against Eating All Wendy’s Sandwiches and Salads With Romaine Lettuce

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The food chain is removing the lettuce from its sandwiches in some states, but CR urges greater caution until more is known about the source of the outbreak.

By Lisa L. Gill

Thirty-seven people have become ill and ten people were hospitalized with a dangerous strain of E. coli, known as E. coli O157:H7—most of them after eating Wendy’s sandwiches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed. Illnesses occurred in four states—Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Although Wendy’s has not confirmed the source of the E. coli, the company said it removed the romaine lettuce from its sandwiches in that region. While the investigation is underway, Consumer Reports’ food safety experts say to avoid consuming any Wendy’s sandwich or salad with romaine lettuce until the company can confirm the source of the pathogen, discloses the cause of the issue and how it plans to address it.

No deaths have been reported. Illnesses started on dates ranging from July 26 to August 8.

“E. coli can be especially harmful to young children, infants, older persons, and those with compromised immune systems,” says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety and testing at Consumer Reports. “The goal is to minimize your risk of getting it, and until we know more about its source, it’s safest to avoid consuming Wendy’s sandwiches served with lettuce and any Wendy’s salad containing romaine lettuce.”

Wendy’s has not yet responded to CR’s questions about the outbreak, what kind of testing the company is doing, and if other states will be affected. But the CDC notes that romaine lettuce served on burgers and sandwiches is the most common ingredient eaten among those who became ill.

The actual number of sick people in the outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, says the CDC, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses.

Between 2006 and 2019, romaine lettuce and other leafy greens, such as spinach and bags of spring mix, were involved in at least 46 multistate E. coli outbreaks, according to the CDC (See CR’s Leafy Greens Safety Guide). CR food safety experts, including Rogers, have long supported efforts giving the FDA more authority to pinpoint the source of these outbreaks and be able to take the necessary steps to prevent future ones.

Symptoms of E. coli

Symptoms of E. coli can appear three to five days after eating contaminated food, and include experiencing diarrhea and a 102 degree fever or higher; diarrhea for three days that is not improving; bloody diarrhea, vomiting where you can not keep liquids down, and severe dehydration, which can include dry mouth and throat, feeling dizzy when you stand up, and not urinating much or at all.

Up to 10 percent of people who become ill with E. coli can develop a  kidney complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) that can damage a person’s kidneys to the point that causes death, according to the CDC. Symptoms include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids.

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Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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