Federal health officials reported seven additional cases of E. coli illness Wednesday in a deadly E. coli outbreak that has now struck 15 U.S. states. CDC health officials are investigating the outbreaks but have stopped short of recommending people avoid romaine lettuce or any other food.
"Leafy greens typically have a short shelf life, and since the last illness started a month ago, it is likely that contaminated leafy greens linked to this outbreak are no longer available for sale", the agency said. Whole genome sequencing indicates that the two outbreak strains in the United States and Canada are closely related genetically.
You've probably heard by now that 41 people in Canada have contracted E. coli from what possibly could have been contaminated romaine lettuce. "We think it's important to avoid eating romaine until the cause of this outbreak is determined", said Jean Halloran, Consumer Reports Food Policy Expert.
The CDC says the likely source of the USA outbreak appears to be leafy greens but it is not recommending Americans avoid any particular food at this time. Based on this information, USA health officials concluded that ill people in this outbreak were not more likely than healthy people to have eaten romaine lettuce. She said it's still unclear whether FDA is intensifying testing of US and imported products in the wake of Canada's findings. The outbreak has now been identified in 15 states.
Since it's better to be safe than sorry, many are advising that you should chuck any romaine lettuce you have lurking in the back of the fridge.
Last week, the CDC said it was eyeing leafy greens as the possible culprit and, this week, seem to be still looking for the source as the outbreak investigation continues. Neither the CDC nor Canadian health officials have provided any information on where the romaine lettuce potentially involved in the illnesses was grown or processed, so for now, consumers should assume that any romaine lettuce, even when sold in bags and packages, could possibly be contaminated, Rogers said.
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Although the most recent illness started on December 12, there is a delay between when someone gets sick and when the illness is reported to CDC.
To protect against E. coli infection, health officials say people should thoroughly wash their hands, as well as counters, cutting boards and utensils.
Most people develop diarrhea (often bloody) and stomach cramps.
For the record, symptoms of E. coli begin two to eight days after consuming the bacteria, notes CNN.
There were 42 cases of E. coli illness in the affected provinces, including 13 in Newfoundland and Labrador. It urged the public to avoid eating romaine lettuce until more is known about the contamination.