Amid continuing concerns about the risk of food poisoning from romaine lettuce, federal health officials have issued expanded warnings that urge consumers not to buy or eat any types of romaine lettuce unless they are able to reliably confirm that it was not grown in the Yuma, Arizona region.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an update last week regarding an ongoing multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romain lettuce, indicating that the warnings were being expanded to cover all types of the lettuce, including whole heads and hearts of romaine, in addition to chopped romaine and salad mixes that contain romaine.
The outbreak has been linked to at least 53 cases of food poisoning across 16 states, including at least 31 individuals who were hospitalized and required additional medical treatment.
Epidemiologic evidence indicates that chopped romaine lettuce is likely the source of the outbreak, with 93% of sickened individuals having reported consuming romaine lettuce in the week before they became ill.
According to CDC investigators, certain romaine lettuce products grown in the Yuma, Arizona region could be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, which is a foodborne illness that can cause serious and sometimes fatal adverse health consequences for the elderly, pregnant women, or those with weakened immune systems.
“Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the CDC warns. “Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you’re uncertain about where it was grown. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.”
In addition, restaurants and retailers have been urged not to serve or sell any romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.
The CDC expanded the scope of the warning after receiving additional injury reports, including reported romaine lettuce food poisoning cases in Alaska involving individuals who reported eating lettuce from whole heads of romaine.
For otherwise healthy individuals E. coli will typically cause mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps, bloody stools, and sometimes minor fevers lasting between five and 10 days. Young children, the sick, and the elderly may be affected more because of a weakened immune system. In some cases the food poisoning could lead to a condition called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure and even death.