E. Coli Bacteria Outbreak May Be Linked to Romaine Lettuce

The U.S. and Canada have seen an outbreak of illnesses caused by a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria. During the past seven weeks, 58 people have become ill, most likely due to eating romaine lettuce.


The states that have seen infections include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington.


While about one out of six Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases each year, five people have been hospitalized and one has died from the E. coli bacteria, according to the CDC.


Studies show that less than 20% of Americans actually take a "real lunch break," and it's common for workers to scarf down a pre-made salad of wilted greens, which often contain romaine lettuce.


Romaine lettuce has been identified as the source of the outbreak in Canada. Health officials are advising people against eating this specific salad green until further notice. In the U.S., officials are in the process of investigating the outbreaks in an attempt to identify the source.


E. coli is a bacteria that typically live in the intestines of humans and animals. Infection from this bacteria can occur from consuming even the smallest amount of contaminated products. Aside from fruits and vegetables, common sources of E. coli may include ground meat, untreated milk, water, yogurt, cheese, as well as people or animals. With certain strands, urinary tract infections and other health issues may arise.


This particular strain of E. Coli (0157:H7) produces a toxin that may lead to serious illness. Because of this, Consumer Reports' experts are advising consumers to not eat romaine lettuce until the source of the outbreak is determined.


James Rogers, Ph.D., director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports, explained that young children, senior citizens, and those with health conditions that weaken the immune system, in particular, should avoid romaine lettuce, as they are at a greater risk.


“Even though we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is almost always consumed raw,” said Rogers.


The CDC announced that it's investigating the infections in the U.S. along with the FDA. As of right now, the agency says it doesn't have enough evidence to recommend people in the U.S. avoid romaine lettuce.


“Although some sick people reported eating romaine lettuce, preliminary data available at this time shows they were not more likely than healthy people to have eaten romaine, based on a CDC food consumption survey,” said Brittany Behm, MPH, a CDC spokesperson.


According to Behm, health officials cannot take action until there is clear and convincing information that linked a contaminated food to an illness.


While the CDC nor the FDA have identified the source of the contamination yet, experts at Consumer Reports believe the public should be warned about the risk immediately.

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