These past two months, several people have been hospitalized, and two have died, after suffering an E.Coli infection most likely linked to Romain Lettuce. Canadian health officials have urged consumers in the Atlantic provinces to avoid the leafy green until the source of the infection can be identified with certainty. In the US, the Center for Disease Control is investigating the issue, but has not yet issued a general warning.
The total number of confirmed cases of E.Coli infection in the US and Canada has risen to 58. Five people have been hospitalized in the US, and the cases are spread over 13 states, from California to Vermont and from Washington state to Virginia. Symptoms of E.Coli infection include powerful stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody stool, and fever. It can take up to 10 days for symptoms to manifest for the first time, but they usually start within 3 days after having eaten the contaminated food.
Kidney failure due to a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome can occur in 5 to 10% of the population exposed to tainted food. Symptoms include overwhelming fatigue, infrequent urination in reduced volume, and paleness, especially under the eyes. These manifest about a week after initial E.Coli infection symptoms. Hemolytic uremic syndrome is particularly dangerous, and can lead to death.
The strain of E.Coli causing this outbreak of infection is 0157:H7, and is usually found in beef. However, greens can also easily be contaminated, if animal waste somehow comes in contact with the produce, or if handlers don’t pay enough attention to hygiene. This strand of E.Coli has caused tainted produce, including romaine lettuce, in 2006 and between 2011 and 2013.
So far, the CDC has not issued a warning to American consumers, while still investigating the definite source of the outbreak. No recalls have been made yet, until the exact producer in question is found. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and the warning released by Canadian authorities should be grounds enough to avoid romaine lettuce for a while. Keep in mind that this plant has a shelf life of up to 5 weeks, so older packets could still prove to be tainted.