Chopped Romaine Lettuce Linked to E. Coli Outbreak

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Chopped romaine lettuce has been linked to dozens of cases of E. coli and anyone who has the leafy green in their refrigerator is told to throw it away immediately, health officials said Friday. No specific grower, supplier, distributors, or brand has been identified.

The CDC is advising retailers and restaurants to stop selling chopped romaine lettuce from the Yuma region, which is home to the annual Lettuce Festival and bills itself as the "winter lettuce capital".

"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy", said Louise Fraser, of Readington Township, summing up her recent battle with E. coli that she claims was from romaine lettuce eaten at a Panera Bread in Raritan. Numerous cases so far were contracted from salad mixes used in restaurants, but some cases have been linked to bagged romaine purchased in stores. Twenty-two hospitalizations have occurred as a result of the outbreak, though luckily no deaths have been reported.

That's similar to the recall Freshway made during the 2010 romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak after an unopened product sample tested positive for E. coli.

Symptoms of E. coli infection vary for each person, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting.

People typically get sick three to four days after eating contaminated food, according to the CDC.

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The CDC says that so far none of the E. coli cases have been linked to heads of romaine lettuce or hearts of romaine, only chopped romaine.

CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are investigating a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli O157:H7) infections.

"Consumer Reports' experts believe that it could be hard for consumers to determine where the romaine they purchase is from, which is why they believe it's best to avoid the lettuce altogether", Consumer Reports said in a release.

This recommendation goes beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation, which is to confirm that any bagged romaine didn't originate in the Yuma area before purchasing. Most of those people ate salad at a restaurant; romaine lettuce was the common ingredient.

CDC investigators don't believe this outbreak is connected to the one that occurred late past year in the United States and Canada, although it is the same potentially deadly strain, E.coli O157:H7. The Produce Marketing Association, Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, United Fresh and Western Growers released a statement on the outbreak, and reassured consumers that almost all romaine lettuce now being harvested and shipped throughout the U.S.is from the California growing areas.

This investigation is ongoing, and CDC will provide more information as it becomes available.

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