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CDC Issues Warning: Romaine Lettuce is Unsafe to Consume

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a food safety alert regarding romaine lettuce – in any form. In response to a new outbreak of illnesses resulting from a type of E. coli bacteria which has proven particularly dangerous, the CDC wants consumers to throw out all romaine lettuce which they might have already purchased. No matter when or where it was grown, restaurants are being advised not to serve it, people are being told not to buy it, and stores are requested not to sell it. This might seem extreme, however, the CDC is unclear as to the extent as well as the origin of the E. coli contamination of the romaine lettuce.

Although no deaths have been reported, throughout 11 states the CDC has identified that 32 people have recently become sick from eating romaine lettuce that’s been contaminated with this type of E. coli bacteria. California is reported to have the highest number of illnesses at 10, Michigan presently has seven, New Jersey has three, two each have been reported for Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, and New Hampshire, and the remaining reports come from Ohio, Connecticut, Maryland, and Wisconsin. At present, there have been no reports of illness resulting from this outbreak in the state of Texas. By the same token, however, the advisory still applies to romaine lettuce in the Lone Star State. This outbreak has resulted in 13 hospitalizations, one of which has suffered a form of kidney failure. And, due to shipping and trade agreements, this isn’t relegated to only the U.S. Canada’s Public Health Agency has also identified 18 people in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec have also been infected. For those who travel for ski vacations to the great white north, this is a rather important advisory.

CDC Issues Warning: Romaine Lettuce is Unsafe to Consume

Photo: Flickr/liz west

The CDC has also advised those who have purchased romaine lettuce to not only wash but also sanitize any shelves and drawers on or in which their romaine lettuce has been stored. In the meantime, the industry is cooperating with federal agencies in trying to enhance the traceback techniques which would allow for the narrowing of sources in such outbreaks. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also issued a statement identifying that it is making best efforts to test for the E. coli bacteria contamination in romaine lettuce across the U.S.

The most recent outbreak affecting romaine lettuce resulted in five fatalities. That contamination and the subsequent warnings ran from March to June of this year. Across 36 states, 210 cases of illness were reported. The source was traced back to a growing region in Yuma, Arizona, but investigators weren’t able to pinpoint the precise source. This latest contamination doesn’t appear to be linked, but the genetic fingerprint of the E. coli bacteria appears similar to one that occurred late in 2017.

CDC Issues Warning: Romaine Lettuce is Unsafe to Consume

Photo: Public Domain Files

What strikes health agencies as odd is that the 2018 outbreak bearing this same strain of bacteria has come at approximately the same time as last year’s, suggesting that a reoccurring source of contamination may be to blame. This could give investigators the clues that are necessary to pinpoint the origin. The bacteria is found in animal intestines and can not only affect romaine lettuce, but a variety of products from the agricultural sector. Of those who become infected, some have been lucky enough to report no symptoms. In those where symptoms are apparent, recovery without complications can generally be anticipated between five and 10 days. Of important note is that this illness has the ability to be spread by direct contact from person to person. The symptoms from this strain of E. coli bacteria (known as O157:H7) have been identified as ranging from stomach cramps which are severe in nature to diarrhea containing blood and vomiting. As noted above, in extreme cases, a type of kidney failure can also generate.