CDC warns of possible E. coli contamination in chopped romaine lettuce

Stock image | Photo by Eakkkk, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Health officials believe that some chopped romaine lettuce originating from Arizona could be contaminated after 35 people in the U.S. have been reported sick from E. coli infection.

Salad stock image | Photo by Ungnoikalookjeab, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising consumers not to eat any store-bought chopped romaine lettuce that they have already purchased. Before making any future purchases of chopped romaine lettuce, consumers should confirm with grocery stores and restaurants that the product they are selling did not originate from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

The advisory came about after the CDC interviewed several of the people who reported being sick from the disease and found that 93 percent had consumed chopped romaine lettuce in the week before their illness started.

“Most people reported eating a salad at a restaurant, and romaine lettuce was the only common ingredient identified among the salads eaten,” the CDC advisory states. “The restaurants reported using bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make salads. At this time, ill people are not reporting whole heads or hearts of romaine.”

No deaths have been reported, but 22 people have been hospitalized as a result of the condition, some with serious conditions.

No cases have been reported in Utah so far, but two western states – Idaho and Washington – have reported 9 total cases of infection as of Thursday.

Map shows states reporting cases of E. coli infections possibly originating from chopped romaine lettuce growing in Arizona | Image courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, St. George News

While no common grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been identified, the CDC has traced infected lettuce purchased at several restaurants to the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

The strain of E. coli in the outbreak, E. coli O157:H7, usually causes people to get sick 2-8 days after swallowing the germ.

Most people who become sick after being infected with E. coli develop diarrhea (often bloody), severe stomach cramps and vomiting.

While most people recover within one week, some illnesses last longer and can be more severe, resulting in a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Three of those infected by the current outbreak have developed the syndrome.

The syndrome can occur in people of any age but is most common in young children under 5 years of age, older adults and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms can include fever, abdominal pain, pale skin tone, fatigue and irritability, small, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth and decreased urination.

People who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately.

The CDC is advising consumers anywhere in the U.S. who have store-bought chopped romaine lettuce at home, including salads and salad mixes containing chopped romaine lettuce, not to eat it and 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.

Before purchasing romaine lettuce at a grocery store or eating it at a restaurant, consumers should confirm with the store that it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region. If the source of the romaine lettuce can’t be confirmed, it should not be purchased or eaten.

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