E Coli Outbreak Spreads to 15 States; Leafy Greens Suspected

FDA Commissioner Comments on Deadly E. coli O57:H7 HUS Outbreak That May Be Linked to Romaine Lettuce

There's new information on the deadly E. coli outbreak that News 10 has been tracking that could be linked to romaine lettuce.

An announcement was made on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which revealed seven more reports of E. coli infections that have spread to two more states, Maryland and New Jersey, in the ongoing outbreak.

"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 given that lettuce is nearly always consumed raw", James Rogers, director of food safety and research at Consumer Reports, said in a press release.

While the outbreak does appear to be associated with leafy greens, according to CDC and FDA statements released yesterday, US health officials have not confirmed a specific type, nor have any food recalls been issued. Consumers there are no longer being advised to avoid eating romaine lettuce. One of those people died.

Last week, the CDC said it was eyeing leafy greens as the possible culprit and, this week, seem to be still looking for the source as the outbreak investigation continues.

In Canada, health officials said romaine lettuce is now safe to eat.

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CDC is not recommending that US residents avoid any particular food given the short shelf life of leafy greens and because a specific type of leafy greens has not been identified. "For instance, if the equipment at a processing plant is contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, new product could become a source of further infections".

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency - which is similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - tested samples of romaine lettuce as part of the outbreak investigation. Some individuals may develop a severe illness called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, which can be life-threatening, although most people recover in a few weeks.

However, officials indicated the outbreak in the United States may also be over soon. "Without knowing the source, it's hard to know", he said, per NBC News. People usually get sick 3 to 5 days after they eat food that is contaminated with the pathogenic bacteria.

If you are concerned that you might have an E. coli infection, talk to your health care provider.

Produce trade organizations issued a statement that, as of last week, no public health agency had contacted romaine lettuce growers or processors and asked to stop shipping product.

To help prevent E. coli infection, wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing and eating food. There has been one death, which was previously reported. Lettuce can also be contaminated by bacteria during and after harvest. Those most at risk for E. coli illness include the very young, very old and individuals with compromised immune systems.

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