Don't eat this lettuce, says Consumer Reports after E. coli outbreak

Jordan Holden

"Even though we can't say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the USA, a greater degree of caution is appropriate [in this case] given that lettuce is nearly always consumed raw", James Rogers, director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports, told Consumer Reports. "But, Islanders may want to consider consuming other types of lettuce instead of romaine until we know more about the source and the cause of the contamination". So far, five people have been hospitalized in the US, and one has died. Two of the hospitalized patients developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. Health officials say the illnesses were reported in Canada and 13 states including New York, California, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.

The toxin produced by E. coli 0157 can cause severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Young children, elderly people, and those with a weakened immune system from a condition such as cancer or diabetes face the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill from E. coli.

"[To] say 'avoid romaine for now, ' I don't know if I have enough information to agree with that statement", said Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.

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Boston Pizza International Inc. has also temporarily suspended the sale of all types of romaine lettuce at the pizza joint's locations in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada as of December 26, said spokeswoman Alexandra Cygal in an email. The available data strongly suggest that romaine lettuce is the source of the USA outbreak.

The strain of E.Coli causing this outbreak of infection is 0157:H7, and is usually found in beef. The majority of these Canadian cases - almost three-quarters - are in females.

Canadian health officials have urged consumers in the Atlantic provinces to avoid the leafy green until the source of the infection can be identified with certainty. "It could be that there's a different [food] source of this exact same pathogen", he said. "If so, and people aren't warned, more may get sick".

"Canada has not been able to get upstream, either". But food safety experts at Consumer Reports went further, advising everyone to stay away from romaine lettuce as a precaution. These manifest about a week after initial E.Coli infection symptoms.

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