Skip the Salad: Romaine Lettuce Linked to E. coli Outbreak
Step away from romaine. In sad news for those of us looking to make January a month of fresh greens, in response to the indulgence of the holidays, Consumer Reports is now advising that we avoid eating romaine lettuce after an E. coli outbreak has been linked to at least two deaths.
Over the past seven weeks, as Consumer Reports notes, 58 people in the U.S. and Canada have become ill from a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria, likely from eating romaine lettuce. In the U.S., the infections have occurred in 13 states including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington state. Five people in the U.S. have been hospitalized and one has died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There has also been one reported death in Canada.
Canadian health authorities have targeted romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak in Canada and are urging people to avoid the salad greens. Here government health officials are still investigating the outbreaks and have made no suggestions regarding romaine lettuce consumption.
Cooking is one way to kill foodborne bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella, but since lettuce is usually eaten raw that's no help. Remember that romaine may also be lurking in bags of mixed greens.
"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 romaine lettuce is almost always consumed raw," said James Roger, food safety director at Consumer Reports as NBC notes.
It should also be noted that washing your leaves thoroughly will not eliminate the problem as the bacteria can cling to nooks and crannies in the lettuce, as Consumer Reports warns.
Those most at risk are the young, the elderly and those with impaired immune systems. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Some people may have a slight fever. In the worst case scenario, exposure to E. coli can lead to kidney failure and death.
"Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and HUS than others, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill," as the CDC has said.
If you want to play it safe, now might be a good time to toss anything you're not sure about out of the fridge.
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