Coli Outbreak: Should You Really Avoid Romaine Lettuce?

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In the US, infections have occurred in 13 states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. So far, five people have been hospitalized in the US, and one has died. In the US, state and local public health officials are interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the week before their illnesses began. "Even though we can't say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the USA, a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is nearly always consumed raw", James Rogers, director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. There has also been one reported death in Canada.

The Public Health Agency of Canada issued a notice about romaine lettuce in December. Infections with shiga-producing E. coli can be life-threatening, especially for young children, the elderly, and people with medical conditions like diabetes.

Boston Pizza has also discontinued the use of the greens at locations in the affected provinces. They have found that the E. coli outbreak here appears to be similar to the outbreak in Canada, but now do not have enough evidence to issue an official recommendation against Americans eating romaine lettuce. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated with E. coli when they come into contact with feces from infected animals, or with bacteria from raw meat, poultry or seafood.

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Another possibility is that the E. coli strain causing illness in the United States is actually slightly different from the strain in Canada.

Most strains of E. coli are harmless to humans, but some can cause vomiting, diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and other symptoms. The CDC is now interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the week prior to getting sick. "Health officials assess all of these data to try to find the likely source of the outbreak", said spokeswoman Kate Fowlie.

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