Throw Out Your Romaine Lettuce Because It Could Be Contaminated With E. Coli

A multistate outbreak of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce is widening and has sickened at least 53 people so far. Here's what you need to know.

A mysterious outbreak linked to romaine lettuce is making people sick all over the country.

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The outbreak widened this week, and officials are now warning US consumers to stay away from all types of romaine lettuce — including whole heads and hearts, chopped, and store-bought romaine lettuce purchased either on its own or in a salad mix — unless the source of the product is known.

So far 53 people have gotten sick, including 31 people who were hospitalized, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Friday. Several new cases in Alaska prompted the CDC to expand its warning to cover all types of romaine lettuce.

There have been no deaths yet, but in the past week alone, 18 new cases and nine more hospitalizations have been reported, including two people who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a dangerous type of kidney failure.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria commonly found in the digestive tract of people and animals. These germs can make you sick if they contaminate food, but some — such as E. coli O157:H7, the strain in this outbreak — produce a toxin that can be potentially life-threatening. These are called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC.

Most strains cause severe diarrhea, but some can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and kidney problems, according to the CDC. You can get exposed to E. coli from contaminated water or food, or through contact with fecal material from people or animals.

The tainted romaine was grown in the Yuma, Arizona, region, but the outbreak now spans across 16 states.

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"Information collected to date indicates that all romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region could be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and could make people sick," the CDC reported.

Health officials have not identified a common supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce yet.

So if you live in the US and bought romaine lettuce recently — either on its own or as part of a salad mix — throw it in the trash.

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It might seem wasteful, but that bag or head of romaine probably isn't worth a potentially dangerous E. coli infection — which can land you in the hospital.

"Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home 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," the CDC wrote in a statement.

If you are purchasing romaine lettuce, you should check to make sure it wasn't grown in the Yuma region. "Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you’re uncertain about where it was grown," the CDC warned. Additionally, the CDC is advising restaurants and retailers not to purchase or serve any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting. Most cases are mild, but some can become severe or even fatal.

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The symptoms and signs of O157:H7 E. coli infection will vary from person to person, and most people will start to feel sick three or four days after exposure. The most common symptoms are diarrhea (which can be bloody), severe stomach cramps, and vomiting; some people may develop a fever.

Most infections are mild and will go away in about five to seven days, but others can become severe or life-threatening. About 5–10% of people who get infected with STEC will develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, according to the CDC.

Pregnant women, newborns, children, older adults, and people with weak immune systems have the highest risk of getting sick from E. coli and also developing severe or potentially fatal complications.

You should contact your health care provider if you have severe, persistent, or bloody diarrhea or you are vomiting so much that you can't keep any liquids down.

You can prevent infection with E. coli by practicing proper hand-washing, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. You should also avoid consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, and eggs and follow other food safety practices to avoid cross-contamination.


The CDC expanded its warning to consumers to cover all types of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region.