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E.coli outbreak is caused by romaine, and here's how to avoid it

By Shannan Rouss ; Updated April 26, 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that chopped romaine lettuce is likely to blame for the latest E. coli outbreak, which has infected at least 84 people across the country.

According to the CDC, preliminary evidence suggests that the contaminated lettuce was grown in Yuma, Arizona, but the agency has yet to pinpoint a particular brand, supplier, grower or distributor.

As of April 26, E. coli had shown up in 19 states, including 18 cases in Pennsylvania, seven in New Jersey and 10 in Idaho. Additionally, three new states have reported ill people: Colorado, Georgia and South Dakota. Thankfully, no one has died as a result of the infection, although 42 people have been hospitalized, and nine people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure caused by E. coli, reports the CDC.

This isn’t the first E. coli outbreak linked to romaine. In December of 2017, the Public Health Agency of Canada said the lettuce was responsible for 42 cases of E. coli across five Canadian provinces. And in January of this year, the CDC identified an E. coli strain closely related to the Canadian one, which infected 25 people in 15 states. The CDC named leafy greens as the culprit, but couldn’t narrow it down beyond that.

For its latest investigation, the CDC interviewed 28 infected people and found that most of them ate a salad at a restaurant the week before getting sick. The common ingredient in those salads? Romaine lettuce — specifically bagged, chopped romaine, according to the restaurants where people ate.

The CDC has advised restaurants and stores to not serve or sell any chopped romaine lettuce that may have been grown in the Yuma region. That’s potentially a lot of romaine lettuce, given that the area supplies up to 90 percent of our country’s leafy greens between November and March.

As for consumers, the CDC says to throw away any store-bought chopped romaine lettuce, including salads and salad mixes containing romaine. It’s also recommended that you wash and disinfect drawers or shelves in your refrigerator where chopped romaine may have been stored.

If you do start to feel sick or worry you might have been exposed to E. coli, here’s what you need to know: Symptoms typically hit about three to four days after exposure (though they can appear in as quickly as two days or as far out as 10). In addition to stomach cramping and vomiting, there’s also diarrhea that’s often bloody, says the CDC. Think food poisoning, but worse.

Most people get better within a week, but the infection can lead to the life-threatening condition HUS in about 5 to 10 percent of people. “Clues that someone is developing HUS include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids,” according to the CDC’s site. You’ll want to get to a doctor immediately if you suspect HUS.

Now excuse us while we go clean out our refrigerator.

Read more: 4 Ways to Properly Wash Fresh Vegetables

What Do YOU Think?

Are you worried about the latest E. coli outbreak? Have you or has anyone you know ever gotten sick from E. coli? Are you surprised (and/or grossed out) by how many foods could be contaminated with E. coli?

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