What You Should Know About the Romaine Lettuce Recall

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On November 19, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an outbreak of E. coli affecting 43 people in 12 states. The CDC stated that the illnesses began between October 8 and October 31. The majority (69%) of victims were female. Sixteen of the victims sought hospitalization, but so far, the most recent outbreak has not taken any lives. The CDC stated that romaine lettuce harvested in California was most likely the source of the outbreak.

The Facts of the Outbreak

Upon the initial announcement of the E. coli outbreak, the CDC stated that public health officials in the U.S. and Canada were investigating a multi-state epidemic. The CDC provided a map of states where the reports came from. The original map showed 32 outbreaks across 11 states. The most recent map (published November 26) shows how the incidents grew.

  • California had 11 outbreaks.
  • New Jersey had nine.
  • Michigan had seven.
  • New York had five, and New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Maryland, Connecticut, and Rhode Island each had one or two.

The total number of reported cases now stands at 43. During the investigation, 88% of ill people interviewed had eaten romaine lettuce in the week they became sick. They had consumed the lettuce at home or in restaurants. By tracing the romaine lettuce back, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that the place of harvest was the Central Coastal growing region of California. The CDC did not give a list of brand names in the initial release but advised consumers to abstain from eating romaine lettuce from central and northern California until further notice. For those who have been affected by the lettuce, there could be a possible product liability lawsuit in the works.

Most Recent E. coli News

Subsequent CDC announcements gave more details about the victims of the E. coli outbreak. The CDC stated that one person had developed a serious type of kidney failure: hemolytic uremic syndrome. It also stated that the Public Health Agency of Canada had identified people with the same strain of bacteria in Canada. The CDC advised restaurants and retailers to stop selling and serving romaine lettuce harvested from the suspect growing regions.

Federal organizations have not yet issued an official recall of specific brand names, distributors, or suppliers of romaine lettuce. The investigation remains ongoing. The CDC has, however, advised everyone not to eat any romaine lettuce at all until investigators find the underlying cause of the outbreak. The blanket warning includes whole heads, hearts of romaine, precut lettuce, and salad mixes that contain romaine.

Despite there being no official brand recall yet, consumers should avoid any romaine lettuce from sources in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Benito, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Ventura. So far, romaine lettuce in regions near Yuma and elsewhere outside of northern and central California are not part of the outbreak. Hydroponically grown romaine lettuce is also not part of the warning.

Signs and Symptoms of the E. coli Virus

As the CDC recommends, avoid romaine lettuce from source regions. Sanitize your refrigerator and other places you stored romaine lettuce. If you have eaten romaine lettuce products in the past week or longer, watch for signs of illness. Write down everything you ate in the week before you noticed symptoms. Then, report your illness to the health department. The E. coli virus has several common symptoms.

  • Low fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stool
  • Vomiting

Some people experience minor symptoms of the bacterial infection, while others have severe and life-threatening effects. Most people with the Shiga toxin-producing strain of E. coli (the strain involved in this outbreak) notice symptoms three to four days after consuming contaminated lettuce. Symptoms can start as late as 10 days after exposure, however. Approximately 5% to 10% of the people with this infection develop hemolytic uremic syndrome. See your doctor immediately if you are feeling ill after consuming romaine lettuce.