Salad lovers, beware. Due to a deadly outbreak of the E. coli virus, experts say it isn’t safe to eat romaine lettuce right now.
The outbreak, which has sickened 17 people in the U.S. and 41 in Canada (there has been one death reported in both countries), has happened over the past seven weeks.
In the U.S., bacterial infections have been reported in 13 states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington state.
The Public Health Agency in Canada has identified romaine lettuce as the source of their outbreak, while the CDC is still investigating the cause in the U.S. In the meantime, Consumer Reports suggests we skip romaine altogether until the cause of the outbreak is confirmed, and instead opt for other types of lettuce.
“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 director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports, James Rogers, Ph.D.
As with most illnesses, Consumer Reports notes that children, the elderly, and anyone with a health condition that compromises their immune system are at greater risk of getting very sick if exposed to the virus.
Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, says, “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.”
Symptoms of this strain of E. coli are severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting and typically start one to three days after a contaminated food is ingested.
To be safe, Rogers says don’t 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.
And, if you have any of these symptoms, see your doc.