American shoppers told to avoid romaine lettuce amid E coli outbreak

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The outbreak widened this week, and officials are now warning USA consumers to stay away from romaine lettuce - specifically chopped, store-bought romaine lettuce purchased either on its own or in a salad mix - until the outbreak is under control.

Media reports indicate Safeway had pulled romaine lettuce from shelves in OR and replaced it with safe product. No common grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been identified yet, according to the CDC. While most strains are harmless, the one found in recent patients - 0157:H7 - is a specific strain that can cause serious illness.

Last winter, Consumer Reports criticized the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration for not warning people away from romaine lettuce when there was a similar outbreak, but the CDC said at the time that it couldn't pinpoint what type of salad green might be responsible. Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you're uncertain about where it was grown.

So far there have been no reported cases in New Mexico. Five people that have been infected have developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. There are no reported deaths as of Friday at 4 p.m. EDT.

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More cases of E. Coli infection may be reported in the coming weeks, since some people may not immediately report the illness. Nugget Markets, Safeway and Raley's told us the romaine lettuce they sell does not come from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.

The announcement means that consumers should avoid eating not just chopped romaine from this region - as the CDC previously advised - but also whole heads and hearts of romaine, the CDC said.

The agency said it traced the infection to romaine lettuce after interviewing numerous sick people and asking about the foods they had eaten and other exposures before they became ill.

Romaine lettuce is sometimes packed in the field and shipped directly to restaurants or grocery stores. The most susceptible to the illness are young children, the elderly, and immune-compromised people. Almost all - 41 of 43 - said they had eaten romaine lettuce in the week before they were interviews. This is the first E. coli outbreak of 2018.

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