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.

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.

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.

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

UPDATE

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