E. Coli and Romaine Lettuce: What You Should Know
In November 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a food safety warning calling for the immediate recall of romaine lettuce. Officials put forth this recall due to the outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce. While the recall originally applied to all romaine lettuce grown in the United States and Canada, recent investigations narrowed the scope of the outbreak.
As of early December 2018, the romaine lettuce recall was still in effect. Consumers should avoid romaine lettuce.
Common E. Coli Symptoms
E. coli has several unpleasant symptoms that people should watch for if they believe they have consumed contaminated lettuce. Usually, these symptoms are confused for very severe food poisoning. If a person experiences any severe E. coli symptoms, he or she should seek medical attention immediately.
- Bloody diarrhea
- Intense, painful stomach cramps
In addition, people should watch for signs of HUS kidney failure, sometimes caused by E. coli infections.
- Stomach pain
- Pale skin
- Small, sudden bruises
- Nose and mouth bleeding
- Decreased urination
Origins of the Romaine Lettuce Recall
From October 8 through October 31, illnesses linked to E. coli infections from romaine lettuce began. According to the CDC, no deaths occurred from this outbreak. Out of the 38 reported cases, 16 people ended up in hospital care. One person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure, due to E. coli. A product liability lawsuit could be in the works for those injured.
As of November 2018, 42 reported cases occurred across 12 states, including California, New York, and Illinois. Originally, the recall applied to all romaine lettuce grown in the United States and parts of Canada. However, a CDC investigation traced the outbreak back to farms in Northern and Central California.
This investigation was ongoing as of December 2018. Despite identifying a region as the source of the outbreak, CDC has not determined a single retailer, supplier, grower, or distributor of romaine lettuce to be responsible. The victims of this outbreak ate romaine lettuce from multiple sources, at various restaurants and at home.
What Is E. Coli?
E. coli is a bacterium that lives in human intestines. While most strains of E. coli are relatively harmless and good for digestive tract health, some strains cause painful symptoms. This occurs when a person ingests E. coli from contaminated food or water. While it causes food poisoning, it can also lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, breathing issues, and urinary tract infections.
Often, E. coli spreads due to unsanitary conditions on farms or food processing plants. Since these bacteria live in digestive tracts, transmission often occurs through fecal matter. For fruits and vegetables, E. coli infections occur when farmers treat the plants with polluted water.
Tips for Staying Safe
The CDC recommends several tips for people to keep themselves safe during this recall.
- Avoid romaine lettuce from the Central Coastal growing regions of California.
- If the growing region is not on the label on romaine lettuce, do not use or eat the lettuce.
- Act when you detect the symptoms of E. coli. Visit a doctor, cooperate with public health officials, and write down symptoms and possible contamination sources leading up to the infection.
- Follow basic food safety rules, such as washing hands before and after food preparation.