Food & Drink

Here's the cause of the E. coli outbreak, along with a warning from the CDC and FDA

Salad with romaine lettuce
Salad with romaine lettuce

An E. coli outbreak that began near the end of March and has reached 11 states likely traces back to chopped Romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, area, according to Friday afternoon's Centers for Disease Control update.

While the CDC couldn't narrow things down to a brand or grower, the agency did have two pieces of advice for U.S. consumers:

Anyone with store-bought chopped romaine lettuce, even if its in salads and salad mixes, should toss it. Throw it away "even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick," the CDC update states. "If you do not know if the lettuce is Romaine, do not eat it and throw it away."

Before buying Romaine lettuce at a grocery or at a restaurant, ask the grocer or restaurateur where it came from. "If you cannot confirm the source of the Romaine lettuce," the CDC states, "do not buy it or eat it."

Of the 35 people hit in this outbreak, the CDC has interviewed 28 and says 26 recalled eating Romaine lettuce in the week before symptoms started.

"Most people reported eating a salad at a restaurant, and Romaine lettuce was the only common ingredient identified among the salads eaten," the CDC reported. "The restaurants reported using bagged, chopped Romaine lettuce to make salads. At this time, ill people are not reporting whole heads or hearts of Romaine."

The agency stated this E. coli outbreak isn't related to the E. coli outbreak that struck the United States and Canada in November and December, for which Romaine lettuce also got blamed. Neither the CDC, FDA nor Public Health Agency of Canada found a single source for the Romaine lettuce in that outbreak, which sickened 25 and killed one on the U.S. side of the border.

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E. coli symptoms can range from harsh annoyance (five to seven days of stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea) to potentially fatal (hemolytic uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure called "HUS"). Those younger than 5 and 65 and older are the most vulnerable to E. coli's nastiest damage.

So far, this outbreak has sickened 35 people, 22 of which have been hospitalized, over 11 states. Three people have developed HUS. No deaths have been reported. Ages of the sick range from 12 to 84. Of the 35, 24 are women.

In the Northeastern megalopolis, Pennsylvania has nine cases, neighboring New Jersey has seven, New York and Connecticut have two each. The other East Coast state with a case is Virginia (one). In the Midwest, Ohio has two sickened, while Michigan, Illinois and Missouri have one each. The state of Washington has one. Idaho has eight.