E.coli Outbreak In Canada And The US Linked To Romaine Lettuce

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November 21, 2018

Take Caesar salads off the menu for at least the next little while. In fact, if you have any romaine lettuce in your fridge right now, get rid of it. The variety of leafy green has been linked to a massive E.Coli outbreak currently affecting the US and Canada.

What We Know So Far

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 32 people in 11 states have fallen ill so far; 13 of them had to be hospitalized. One person has gone on to develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

According to this CNN report, the affected states include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  

In Canada, the same strain of E.coli has infected at least 19 people in New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. Six people have been hospitalized, and one person has developed HUS. The Canadian public health agency says it worked closely with the US to determine that romaine lettuce caused the outbreak, but how it became contaminated remains unclear.

That means that all growers, suppliers, and distributors in the affected areas are under the microscope.

The illnesses first began in both Canada and the US between October 8th and October 31st. What’s scary is that this E.coli outbreak has the exact same DNA fingerprint as a strain that sickened both Americans and Canadians alike in 2017. Similarly, that outbreak was linked to leafy greens.

Effective immediately, experts on both sides of the border are urging us to stop eating romaine lettuce until they get to the bottom of this. Even if you’ve had a head of lettuce in the fridge for some time, eaten some of it and haven’t fallen ill, throw it out. After you do, wash and sanitize the area where the lettuce was stored.

The rules apply to all romaine lettuce, including prewashed bags of salad, such as spring mix.

Symptoms To Watch For

The CDC says if you experience any of the following after eating romaine lettuce, you may have been infected with E.coli and need to report your illness to health officials right away

  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever

You’ll usually notice symptoms within three or four days of eating infected food. The CDC says most people start to feel better within a week, although this particular strain of E.coli causes more severe illness, such as kidney failure.  

Not All That Uncommon

The CDC reports that E.coli infections are to blame for about 2,000 hospitalizations in the US every year, but that 265,000 people report suffering the symptoms of the infection.

This current outbreak comes on the heels of a severe outbreak in March of this year in which 200 people became sick and five people died. That was the worst E.coli outbreak recorded since 2006 and was also linked to romaine lettuce.

It was eventually linked to lettuce grown in Arizona’s Yuma region, but the responsible farm, distributor, or supplier was never found. This time around, researchers are hoping to pinpoint the exact location of where the infection has started.

How It Happens And Why Lettuce?

E.coli are bacteria that live in the intestines of cattle, poultry, and other animals, but it doesn’t make them sick. The reason fruits and veggies, and especially leafy greens are the most common source of E.coli infections is because they’ve come into contact with feces from infected animals.

The CDC says it can happen out in the fields through the soil, contaminated water, animals, or improperly composted manure. Lettuce is also susceptible to infection during and after harvest from handling, storage, and transportation. Contamination is also possible at the grocery store, in your fridge, or from eating lettuce that has shared the same cutting board as raw meat and seafood.

Remember; this isn’t a case of simply washing your romaine lettuce more thoroughly. For the time being, don’t buy it, don’t order it, and don’t eat it. And if you already have some, throw it out. Your health might depend on it.  

Catherine Sherriffs
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Catherine Sherriffs

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her two young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.
Catherine Sherriffs
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