U.S. health officials are warning people to steer clear of romaine lettuce, which they say has caused an ongoing outbreak of E. coli responsible for 32 confirmed illnesses across the country, including 13 hospitalizations, and an additional 18 people in Canada.
Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health officials have traced the illnesses to romaine lettuce, they have not yet identified the exact source of the E. coli contamination.
“It’s still early in this investigation and work remains to pinpoint the source of contamination that contributed to this outbreak,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a release.
People who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. Retailers and restaurants should not serve or sell any romaine lettuce until more is known about the E. coli outbreak.
In addition to whole heads of romaine, bags of chopped romaine, salad mixes containing romaine, hearts of romaine, and any Caesar salads containing romaine lettuce should not be sold, served, or eaten.
If you’re uncertain whether your bagged lettuce includes romaine, throw it away, the CDC advises. Also be sure to clean and sanitize the crisper drawer, refrigerator shelf, and any other surfaces the lettuce touched.
Genetic analysis of the E. coli O157:H7 strains taken from patients in the current outbreak are similar to strains of E. coli O157:H7 associated with a previous outbreak from the Fall of 2017 that also affected consumers in both the U.S. and Canada.
The 2017 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak was associated with leafy greens in the U.S. and romaine in Canada. This year, romaine lettuce is the suspected source in both the U.S. and Canadian outbreaks. However, there is no genetic link between the current outbreak and the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine that occurred in the Spring of 2018, the CDC said.
Although no deaths have been linked to the current E. coli outbreak, the bacteria is potentially deadly, especially for the elderly, young children, and those in frail health. Symptoms of E. coli infection include dehydration, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and fatigue. These symptoms usually develop two to eight days after exposure. Most people recover within a week, but kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome can develop and cause death.