Here's why you may want to avoid eating romaine lettuce

2007 a worker harvests romaine lettuce in Salinas Calif

2007 a worker harvests romaine lettuce in Salinas Calif

Everyone should temporarily stay away from eating romaine lettuce until health officials can figure out the source of a number of E.coli infections that are thought to be caused by eating the lettuce, Consumer Reports warns.

The infections have occurred in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.

According to Consumer Reports, the unsafe strain of bacteria has sent five people to the hospital and killed one person in the U.S. Another patient reportedly died of the illness in Canada, where the source of the bacteria was tracked down to the leafy greens. There's also been one reported death in Canada. Though the source of infection is still unknown, the CDC is investigating leafy greens and romaine lettuce.

Another possibility is that the E. coli strain causing illness in the United States is actually slightly different from the strain in Canada.

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Ian Williams, PhD, chief of the CDC's Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch, told CIDRAP News that the last illness onset was Dec 8, and though cases are still being reported, the pace of new reports appears to be slowing.

The PHAC has linked the outbreak to romaine lettuce, based on interviews with sick patients, and has urged Canadians to temporarily avoid eating romaine lettuce, though no products have been recalled.

Five people have been hospitalized in the US and one has died, the Consumer Reports article said.

Meanwhile in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on Dec 28 reported one more case, raising the outbreak total to 41 cases in five eastern provinces.

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Those most at risk are the young, the elderly and those with impaired immune systems. The available data strongly suggest that romaine lettuce is the source of the USA outbreak.

"During a foodborne outbreak investigation, officials collect three types of data: epidemiologic, traceback, and food and environmental testing".

Williams explained that with cases "spread out all over the place" and people having to report what they ate, in many cases over a month ago, it's been hard to identify the source in Canada and the US. "At this time, we are still investigating, and when we have information that consumers can use - such as any foods to avoid - we will share it immediately", the FDA said in a statement issued late Thursday.

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