E. coli outbreak may be linked to romaine lettuce

Food safety experts at Consumer Reports this week called upon the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to suggest Americans avoid eating romaine lettuce until a pernicious E. coli outbreak can be sourced and dealt with.

CDC officials have not confirmed the lettuce as the cause for the outbreak in the US, but local and public health officials are now investigating what victims consumed, including greens and romaine lettuce, during the week their illness began, according to a CDC December press release. The 17 USA cases were reported beginning November 15 to December 8, while Canada had 41 cases.

Other states with reported illnesses are Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington. The latest reports state 41 cases of infection in Canada, 17 of whom needed to be hospitalized and one of whom has died, while one individual has also died in the United States.

"Even though we can't say with 100% certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is nearly always consumed raw", says Consumer Reports food safety director James Rogers in a statement. State and local public health officials are interviewing sick people in the US.

No recalls on food items like romaine lettuce have been issued as the CDC is still investigating the cause.

According to the CDC, preliminary results showed that the type of E. coli making people sick in both countries is closely related genetically, meaning the ill people are more likely to share a common source of infection. While washing any greens may help avoid some illnesses, Consumer Reports warns that it may not get rid of all E. Coli bacteria present.

Consumer Reports said people should err on the side of caution and throw out romaine lettuce. The agency says they can not yet link the outbreak of E. Coli to a certain type of food.

Classified as 0157:H7, the strain of E. coli in this new outbreak produces a toxin that can lead to serious illness, kidney failure, and even death. The most unsafe effect is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.

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