Skip the Romaine! CDC Issues E. coli Warning

Wash and sanitize any refrigerator space where the lettuce has been stored, agency says.

By Megan Falk
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Five months after 210 people contracted E. coli from romaine lettuce grown near Yuma, Arizona, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is once again warning Americans to steer clear of the lettuce following the emergence of a new E. coli outbreak.* 

Forty-three people across 12 states — along with 22 people in Canada — have been infected with a strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli — or STEC — and epidemiologic evidence has pointed to romaine as the culprit. Thirteen of these individuals have been hospitalized, one of whom developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. Since no common grower, supplier, distributor or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified, the CDC is urging consumers to avoid eating all types of romaine lettuce. This includes whole heads and hearts, bags and boxes of pre-cut and washed lettuce, and salad mixes that contain romaine. To prevent the spread of the bacteria, the CDC is also advising that people wash and sanitize the areas of their refrigerators where romaine was stored.

Though a spring outbreak, which became the largest multi-state foodborne E. coli outbreak since 2006, was also caused by a STEC strain that led to five deaths and 96 hospitalizations, the bacteria behind the current infections contains a different DNA fingerprint. Symptoms of a STEC infection — including painful stomach cramps, diarrhea that may be bloody, and vomiting — usually appear three to four days after the germ is ingested, but giving your greens a good rinse before eating them won’t necessarily reduce your risk.

"This bacteria can actually get inside the lettuce leaf," said Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch amid the previous outbreak. "Washing it doesn't make it safe."

*Update: As of November 26th, officials say that lettuce is safe to eat again as long as it's not from northern and central California. The CDC warns, "If you do not know where your romaine lettuce is from, do not eat it." 

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Article written by Megan Falk