Nutrition

Romaine Lettuce and E. Coli Outbreak: What You Need To Know

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) has taken a rare step by urging the public to avoid romaine lettuce altogether, unless you know where it’s from, as the E. coli outbreak spreads.

Florida is not one of the 16 states where cases of “E. coli O157:H7” have surfaced linked to romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. But residents in all states are being urged to throw out romaine lettuce, unless they know the origin.

“Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not eat it and throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the CDC states.

Labels on romaine lettuce or other foods often do not identify growing regions, so consumers should discard any romaine lettuce, the agency says. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. “If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away,” the CDC states.

The following states have reported E. coli cases tied to the romaine lettuce alert, according to the latest CDC update: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington. Pennsylvania has reported the most cases thus far – 12.

Most Serious Cases

At least 64 people in these 16 states have been infected with the same strain of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce. About half — 31 of them — have been hospitalized. Five people affected by this outbreak have suffered from a form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Signs that someone is developing HUS include decreased frequency of urination; feeling very tired; and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. HUS is most common in children younger than 5 years, adults aged 65 years and older, and adults with weakened immune systems.

Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) refer to bacteria found in the environment, foods and intestines of people and animals. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you very sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia and other illnesses.

Signs and Symptoms of E. coli

People usually get sick from E. coli between 2 to 8 days (the average is 3 to 4 days) after eating the infected food. Most people recover within 1 week. People with higher chances for foodborne illness such as E. coli are pregnant women, newborns, children, older adults and those with weak immune systems, such as people with cancer, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS.

However, some cases tied to the romaine lettuce outbreak represent a potentially serious strain of E. coli – O157:H7 – which can cause abdominal cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.It can also cause life-threatening conditions, such as kidney failure, fever, bleeding, confusion and seizures.

Most E. coli infections occur as a result of poor hygiene or poor cooking habits. Here are tips from the CDC to help prevent food-borne bacteria:

  • Practice proper hygiene, handwashing.
  • Follow the four steps to food safety when preparing food: cleanseparatecook and chill.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well under running water, unless the package says the contents have already been washed.
  • Cook meats thoroughly:
    • To kill harmful germs, cook beef steaks and roasts to an internal temperature of at least 145°F (62.6˚C) and allow to rest for 3 minutes after you remove meat from the grill or stove.
    • Cook ground beef and pork to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (70˚C).
    • Always use a food thermometer to check that the meat has reached a safe internal temperature because you can’t tell whether meat is safely cooked by looking at its color.
  • Don’t cause cross-contamination in food preparation areas. Thoroughly wash hands, counters, cutting boards and utensils after they touch raw meat.

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