Chopped romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona, area is to blame for a multistate E. coli outbreak, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The CDC says 22 have been hospitalized, no deaths have been reported.
CDC also said the number of cases may increase "due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported". Those most at risk for E. coli illness include the very young, the very old and individuals with compromised immune systems. Extreme sufferers can develop kidney failure associated with E. coli illness called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be life-threatening. In most cases, symptoms appear three to four days after the bacteria is ingested.
"Information collected to date indicates that chopped romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region could be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and could make people sick", the CDC said in the statement, adding the outbreak started on March 22. In the warning, CDC officials said people who have purchased chopped romaine lettuce from stores "should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick". "If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away". Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
Restaurants and stores are advised not to serve or sell chopped romaine lettuce.
"Most people reported eating a salad at a restaurant, and romaine lettuce was the only common ingredient identified among the salads eaten".
The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, which has some jurisdiction in these matters, have come under consumer group scrutiny over the timing of outbreak warnings, which are made hard by trying to isolate an E. coli source and because of the short shelf life of leafy greens in particular, meaning that by the time a source is identified, the contaminated food may be out of circulation - except when it's not, say critics.