The E. coli Outbreak
As of October 7 2022, 20 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O121 have been reported from 6 states (see map). Illnesses started on dates ranging from July 13, 2022, to September 13, 2022 (see timeline).
Sick people range in age from less than 1 to 71 years, with a median age of 31, and 79% are female. Of 14 people with information available, 5 have been hospitalized, including 1 who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that can cause kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.
The true number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for E. coli. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.
State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the week before they got sick. Among 18 people interviewed, 15 reported shopping at ALDI stores. Among these 15 ALDI shoppers, 6 reported eating Earth Grown brand frozen falafel purchased from ALDI in the week before getting sick.
Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. CDC PulseNet manages a national database of DNA fingerprints of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. DNA fingerprinting is performed on bacteria using a method called whole genome sequencing (WGS).
WGS showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples are closely related genetically. This suggests that people in this outbreak got sick from the same food.
Public Health Actions
On October 7, 2022, Cuisine Innovations of Lakewood, New Jersey, recalled Earth Grown Vegan Traditional Falafel and Garlic & Herb Falafel. According to ALDI, Cuisine Innovations is the sole supplier of Earth Grown brand frozen falafel sold in ALDI stores.
CDC is advising people to not eat, sell, or serve recalled frozen falafel.