CDC, FDA recommend consumers not eat romaine lettuce until further notice

35 sick from E. Coli outbreak traced to romaine lettuce

Since the outbreak was potentially linked to lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, the CDC says only lettuce from these regions should be avoided.

"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy", said Louise Fraser, of Readington Township, summing up her recent battle with E. coli that she claims was from romaine lettuce eaten at a Panera Bread in Raritan. No one has died. "If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away", advises the CDC. No death has been reported so far, but of those who fell ill, 22 have been hospitalized including three people who have developed the hemolytic uremic syndrome. Most people reported eating a salad at a restaurant, and romaine lettuce was the only common ingredient identified among the salads eaten. However eight of the cases are in Idaho. There were also cases in Connecticut, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia and Washington state. Ninety-three percent of the patients interviewed said they ate romaine lettuce the week before they got sick.

The CDC reports that early information points to chopped romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona region as the potential culprit.

Lettuce from restaurants is suspected to be affected, as well as bagged and pre-chopped lettuce from stores. No such advisories are in place for unpackaged romaine; packaged romaine heads or hearts that are not chopped; or for any romaine products grown in California.

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"The people who make up the fresh produce industry are keenly interested in finding out what went wrong with our extensive food safety programs", Bob Whitaker, Ph.D., chief science and technology officer at the industry group Produce Marketing Association, said in a statement.

Symptoms of E. coli infection vary for each person, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment.

Health officials said children under the age of 5, seniors older than 65 and those with weak immune systems are most vulnerable. The outbreak is the same potentially deadly strain of E. coli, 0157:H7, that occurred late a year ago in the US and Canada, but the CDC does not believe it is connected with the earlier outbreak. A woman who was sickened with E. coli after eating a salad at Panera has filed a lawsuit against Panera and its lettuce supplier, Freshway Foods. Last year, an outbreak of 17 E. coli infections were reported in 13 states across the United States, all of which occurred from November 15, 2017 through December 8, 2017.

The CDC investigation is ongoing to identify the source of the contamination.

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