Make sure you don’t have any romaine lettuce on your family’s table this Thanksgiving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning Americans to avoid that particular type of lettuce because of concerns over a new outbreak of E. coli.
The agency is “advising that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until we learn more about the outbreak,” CDC officials said in a released statement.
“This investigation is ongoing and the advice will be updated as more information is available,” they added.
Since Oct. 8, at least 32 people in 11 states have become ill with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli 0157:H7, a common source of food poisoning. Thirteen of those people have been hospitalized, including one who developed kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.California has had the most cases (10), followed by Michigan (7). Smaller numbers of cases have been reported in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Canadian officials have also reported 18 cases in two provinces, Ontario and Quebec.
So far, Minnesota appears to have eluded this particular outbreak of E. coli. But the state typically has 160 to 220 cases of E. coli 0157 each year, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
CDC officials say the E. coli 0157 in the current outbreak has “the same DNA fingerprint” of a strain isolated from ill people in a 2017 outbreak, which was linked to leafy greens in the United States and to romaine lettuce in Canada. In that outbreak, 25 people became ill, and one died. Officials were unable to identify the specific source of that outbreak, although they believe some kind of “leafy greens” was probably responsible.
The recently reported cases are not, however, related to last spring’s multistate outbreak of E. coli 0157, which was eventually traced back to romaine lettuce produced around Yuma, Arizona. In that outbreak, at least 201 people became ill and five died.
Toss and wash
Health officials have linked the current E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce, but they have yet to identify a specific source or distributor of the contaminated lettuce. That’s why they are telling people to avoid all romaine lettuce, including whole heads, hearts of romaine, bags and boxes of precut lettuce, and any salad mix that contains romaine (such as baby romaine, spring mix and Caesar salad).
If you don’t know what type of lettuce you have in your kitchen, just throw it away, the agency adds.
You should also toss out any romaine lettuce left over from meals you have already eaten, even if no one got sick.
Then, once you have removed the lettuce from your refrigerator, wash and sanitize any drawers or shelves on which the lettuce was stored.
Recognizing the symptoms
Most people start feeling sick from an E. coli infection two to eight days after eating contaminated food. The symptoms vary from person to person, but include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting.
E. coli infections can be mild, and people typically recover within five to seven days. But the illness can also be severe and even life-threatening, particularly for young children or the elderly.
Up to 10 percent of people diagnosed with E. coli 0157 develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which occurs when the bacteria destroys red blood cells. The symptoms of HUS — less frequent urination, severe fatigue, and a loss of “pinkness” in the cheeks and inside the lower eyelids — tend to develop about seven days after the person first becomes ill. That’s often when the diarrhea is improving, so people may not realize at first that they are getting sicker, not better.
The CDC advises people to contact their health care provider if they have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that they can’t keep liquids down, and pass very little urine.
FMI: You can read the CDC’s “Food Safety Alert” regarding romaine lettuce on the agency’s website. For more information about E. coli infections of all types, go to the Minnesota Department of Health’s website.