Release date 01/08/2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Health officials are investigating a series of recent illnesses from a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria that may be linked to romaine lettuce. Five people in the U.S. have been hospitalized and one has died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There has also been one death reported in Canada.
Food safety experts at Consumer Reports are advising that consumers stop eating romaine lettuce until the cause of the outbreak is identified and that product is removed from store shelves.
Over the past seven weeks, 58 people in the U.S. and Canada have become ill from the strain of E. coli (0157:H7). In the U.S., the infections have occurred in 13 states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington state.
Canadian health authorities identified romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak in Canada, and are advising people in the country’s eastern provinces to consider eating other types of salad greens until further notice. In the U.S., government health officials are investigating the outbreaks, but have stopped short of recommending people avoid romaine lettuce or any other food.
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 romaine lettuce is almost always consumed raw.
James Rogers, Ph.D., Director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports, said, “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 romaine lettuce is almost always consumed raw.” While anyone can get sick if they are infected with this strain of E. coli, young children, the elderly, and anyone who has a condition that weakens the immune system, such as cancer or diabetes, are at a greater risk. Rogers advises that people in these groups should be particularly vigilant about avoiding romaine lettuce.
The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating the E. coli infections in the U.S. According to the CDC, the type of E. coli making people sick is genetically similar to the bacteria involved in the Canadian outbreak. Still, the CDC says it does not have enough information to recommend people in the U.S. avoid a particular food.
The FDA should follow the lead of the Canadian government and immediately warn the public about this risk. The available data strongly suggest that romaine lettuce is the source of the U.S. outbreak. If so, and people aren’t warned, more may get sick.
Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, said, “The FDA should follow the lead of the Canadian government and immediately warn the public about this risk. The available data strongly suggest that romaine lettuce is the source of the U.S. outbreak. If so, and people aren’t warned, more may get sick.”
Neither the U.S. nor Canadian health officials have provided information on where the romaine lettuce potentially involved in the illnesses was grown or processed, so for now, Consumer Reports says consumers should assume that any romaine lettuce, even when sold in bags and packages, could possibly be contaminated. Do not 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. Consumers should also check salad blends and mixes, and avoid those that contain romaine.
The full story by Consumer Reports is available online here at ConsumerReports.org.