If your New Year's resolution is to get more veggies into your diet and on your family's dinner table, there's one you may do well to steer clear of for the time being: romaine lettuce. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning after nearly 60 people were infected by E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria, according to CBS Los Angeles. Health officials say the illnesses were reported in Canada and 13 states including New York, California, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. Five people have landed in the hospital and two people have died (one in the U.S., the other in Canada), Consumer Reports states.
The warning goes onto note that The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak in Canada. However, the CDC is "still collecting information to determine whether there is a food item in common among sick people, including leafy greens and romaine."
So, while experts believe romaine is the culprit, the CDC says they need to finish their investigation before warning people to steer clear of the leafy greens altogether. Yet, food safety experts at Consumer Reports urge people to stay away from it as a precaution.
"Even though we can't say with 100 percent 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 almost always consumed raw," Consumer Report's director of food safety and research James Rogers told CBS.
Rinsing your romaine may help, but it's not a surefire solution. And people who are more susceptible to getting sick (such as kids, seniors, anyone with a condition like cancer or diabetes that weakens the immune system) "should be particularly vigiliant about avoiding romaine," says Rogers.
Symptoms (like stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting) may take one to three days to show up, and experts warn that this particular strain can lead to serious illness, kidney failure, and even death.
For now, Consumer Reports advises: "Don’t buy romaine lettuce and don’t use any that you may have in your refrigerator until there is more information on the source of contamination. In their warning, the Canadian health officials noted that romaine lettuce can have a shelf life of up to five weeks, so lettuce you purchased a few weeks ago could still be contaminated. Check salad blends and mixes, too, and avoid those that contain romaine."
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With hope, this heads-up will help prevent further illness related to the outbreak.