E. coli Outbreak Prompts Warning to Californians: Avoid Romaine Lettuce

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is currently investigating a multi-state outbreak of E. coli infections affecting 13 states, including 3 reported illnesses in California. The illnesses occurred between Nov. 15 and Dec. 8.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is also investigating an outbreak of E. coli infections in several provinces and has identified romaine lettuce as the source of the problem. 

In the U.S., health officials are interviewing those affected to determine what they consumed the week before the illness occurred. Yesterday, the CDC confirmed to Consumer Reports that the strain of E. coli detected in the U.S. is a “virtual genetic match” to the one linked to romaine lettuce in Canada, which contains a toxin that leads to serious illness, kidney failure and in rare cases, death.

Though the CDC has not officially recommended U.S. residents avoid a particular food, it’s wise to scratch romaine lettuce from your grocery list. Also, if you dine out and see romaine lettuce on the menu, skip that item and order something else … at least for now.

“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 lettuce is almost always consumed raw,” says James Rogers, Ph.D., director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports.

E. coli and its harmful effects can be devastating to anyone but young children, the elderly, and anyone with a condition that weakens the immune system are at greater risk. As Rogers explains: “People in these groups should be particularly vigilant about avoiding romaine lettuce.”