Consumer Reports Says You Should Avoid Romaine Lettuce

Laverne Higgins
January 10, 2018

So far, five people have been hospitalized in the U.S. Officials said one person has died in the U.S. and another in Canada.

The outbreak has killed one person in each country and sickened at least 58 people, Consumer Reports said.

Identifying the source of a foodborne illness outbreak can be a delicate balance between warning consumers of public health risks and unduly tainting industries or specific businesses without sufficient evidence, said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney specializing in food safety cases.

Despite the fact that the US hasn't issued an official ban on the lettuce yet, an expert with Consumer Reports points out that lettuce in general carries a high risk of infection-causing bacteria like E. coli because it is eaten raw instead of cooked.

And so the testing and interviewing continues, Williams said, with no guarantee that the CDC and FDA will be able to identify the exact source of the E. coli when it's all said and done. For now, Consumer Reports' food safety experts are advising that everyone stops eating romaine lettuce until the cause of the outbreak is identified.

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"Even though we can't say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the United States, a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is nearly always consumed raw", James Rogers, director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports, said in a statement.

Get the latest health and science news, plus: burning questions and expert tips. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, pain or tenderness, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

There are many ways lettuce can be contaminated with E. coli: in the field through contaminated water or manure; during harvest; during transportation and storage; at a grocery store; or in the home through cross-contamination from raw meat or poultry. The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported on 41 illnesses. Those sickened reported symptoms from November 15 through December 8. Then, the CDC will do the same with a group of healthy people and determine whether there are certain foods that the ill people were more likely to eat, compared with healthy people, Chapman said. Young children, the elderly and anyone with a condition that weakens the immune system are at a greater risk for illness.

The abundance of caution comes in part because romaine lettuce is nearly always eaten raw, according to Consumer Reports.

Be on the lookout for serious complications of E. coli, including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which affects the kidneys. The CDC is now interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the week prior to getting sick.

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