If you have romaine lettuce in your fridge, throw it away. Now

U.S. health officials are telling people to avoid eating romaine lettuce because of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 32 people in 11 states.

Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday issued a nationwide alert “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.”

The CDC said they are investigating and information will be updated as more information becomes available.

The Food and Drug Administration says it’s working with officials in Canada, where people are also being warned to stay away from romaine lettuce. The strain identified is different than the one linked to romaine earlier this year, but it appears similar to one linked to leafy greens last year.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says the agency didn’t have enough information to request suppliers issue a recall, but he said supermarkets and restaurants should withdraw romaine products until the contamination can be identified.

The contaminated lettuce is likely still on the market, Gottlieb told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday.

He said FDA wanted to issue a warning before people gathered for Thanksgiving meals, where the potential for exposure could increase.

“We did feel some pressure to draw conclusions as quickly as we could,” he said.

No deaths have been reported. The last illness was reported on Oct. 31.

Most romaine sold this time of year is grown in California, Gottlieb said. The romaine lettuce linked to the E. coli outbreak earlier this year was from Yuma, Arizona. That outbreak, which sickened about 200 people and killed five, was blamed on tainted irrigation water.

Most E. coli bacteria are not harmful, but some produce toxins that can cause severe illness.

Tracing the source of contaminated lettuce can be difficult because it’s often repackaged by middlemen, said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That can mean the entire industry becomes implicated in outbreaks, even if not all products are contaminated.

Washing lettuce won’t ensure that contaminated lettuce is safe, Sorscher said.

Infections from E. coli can cause symptoms including severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

Here’s some info from the CDC:

  • Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.
  • This advice includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.
  • If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.
  • Wash and sanitize drawers or shelves in refrigerators where romaine was stored. Follow these five stepsto clean your refrigerator.
  • Restaurants and retailers should not serve or sell any romaine lettuce, including salads and salad mixes containing romaine.
  • Take actionif you have symptoms of an  coli infection:
    • Talk to your healthcare provider.
    • Write down what you ate in the week before you started to get sick.
    • Report your illness to the health department.
    • Assist public health investigators by answering questions about your illness.

Advice to clinicians from the CDC:

  • Antibiotics are not recommendedfor patients with  coli O157 infections. Antibiotics are also not recommended for patients in whom E.coli O157 infection is suspected, until diagnostic testing rules out this infection.
  • Some studies have shown that administering antibiotics to patients with  coliO157 infections might increase their risk of developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (a type of kidney failure), and the benefit of antibiotic treatment has not been clearly demonstrated.

 

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.