A new food safety alert from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises consumers in the US to avoid consuming romaine lettuce and retailers and restaurants not to serve or sell any due to an outbreak of Escherichia coli.
To date, 32 people infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 11 states, with illnesses starting on dates ranging from 8 October to 31 October. No deaths have been reported but 13 people have been hospitalised. According to epidemiologic evidence from the US and Canada, romaine lettuce is a likely source of the outbreak.
The CDC has said that 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 fallen ill. This advice applies to all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine and bags and boxes of pre-cut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad. In addition, the CDC advised that if consumers aren’t sure whether the lettuce is romaine, they should throw it away anyway to be on the safe side. Consumers are also advised to wash and sanitise drawers or shelves in refrigerators where romaine was stored.
If travellers experience symptoms of an E. coli infection, which include severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea (often bloody) and vomiting, they should seek advice from a healthcare provider, write down what they ate in the week before they started to get sick, report their illness to the health department, and assist public health investigators by answering questions about their illness.