E. coli outbreak not cause for concern at University


By Olivia Welshans, Staff Writer

Students eating in University dining halls are not at risk for falling ill due to the recent E. coli outbreak in crops of romaine lettuce that was reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC issued a warning for all lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona, region, including salad mixes, hearts and whole heads of romaine lettuce, said Jim Roberts, environmental health director at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

University students should not have to worry about this outbreak because romaine lettuce stocked by University Dining is from California, not the region reportedly supplying the contaminated lettuce, said Aubrey Dawn, associate director of University Housing for Dining Services.

“Food safety is a high priority, and we are vigilant to make sure that we never serve a product that may be unsafe,” Dawn said.

According to the CDC’s case count map, 84 people have reported E. coli infections after eating romaine lettuce as of April 24. Only one case has been reported in Illinois so far. 

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Dawn said after the CDC issued a warning on romaine lettuce, University Dining’s supplier chose not to ship any products from Yuma, Arizona, even though products they would have shipped were never under investigation or recalled.

In the event of a recall, dining staff checks to see if its inventory contains any recalled product, Dawn said. If University Dining were to find any recalled product, it would take the product out of service and notify its suppliers and the campus community.

Dawn said they do not often stock recalled products because their suppliers keep a close eye on the products they purchase.

“The growers for your distributor to the U of I have never been under investigation by the CDC and never issued a recall on any of their products,” Dawn said.

E. coli infection symptoms can include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting. People will often recover from these symptoms in a week, but more severe cases can result in kidney failure, Roberts said.

Additionally, Roberts said people with symptoms of E. coli infection should talk to their doctors and report their illness to their local health department.

Most strains of E. coli bacteria are harmless and a part of a healthy human intestinal tract, but some E. coli produce adverse symptoms. Almost everyone has some risk of E. coli infection, Roberts said.

“People have gotten infected by swallowing lake water while swimming, touching the environment in petting zoos and other animal exhibits and by eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the toilet,” Roberts said.

Aashay Patel, senior in Engineering, said he is surprised the dining halls at the University manage to provide for thousands of students while upholding hygiene and safety standards.

“The consequences are big if they screw up. If that source is contaminated or compromised in any way, someone could get sick. Just the fact they can pull that off makes me trust them,” Patel said.

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