E. coli outbreak linked to chopped lettuce sickens dozens across 11 states

NEW YORK — Chopped romaine lettuce has been linked to dozens of cases of E. coli and anyone who has the leafy green in their refrigerator is told to throw it away immediately, health officials said Friday.

No common grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been identified as the source of the multi-state outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, the contaminated lettuce can be traced only to the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

Consumers who have store-bought chopped romaine at home should not eat it and should throw it away, the CDC said. That includes salads and salad mixes that contain romaine lettuce.

“If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away,” the agency said.

Before buying romaine lettuce at a store or eating it at a restaurant, consumers should confirm that it did not come from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region. If the green’s origin can’t be determined, don’t buy it or eat it, the CDC said.

Restaurants and retailers are told not to serve any chopped romaine lettuce that comes from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region, and should ask their suppliers about the source of their chopped romaine lettuce.

Thirty-five people in 11 states have been sickened and 22 of those patients were so severely ill, they had to be hospitalized, the CDC said. Three of them developed a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

The states where cases have been reported are: Pennsylvania (9); Idaho (8); New Jersey (7); Connecticut (2); New York (2); Ohio (2); Virginia (1); Washington (1); Missouri (1); Michigan (1); and Illinois (1).

They all became infected between March 22 and March 31, and range in age from 12 to 84 years old.

The majority -- 26 out of 28 people -- reported having eaten romaine lettuce in the week before they became sick, the CDC said.

"Most people reported eating a salad at a restaurant, and romaine lettuce was the only common ingredient identified among the salads eaten," the agency said, explaining its probe into the illnesses. "The restaurants reported using bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make salads. At this time, ill people are not reporting whole heads or hearts of romaine."

The number of cases could grow, because it takes an average of two to three weeks between when a person becomes sick with E. coli and when the illness is reported.

While most strains of the bacteria E. coli are harmless, others can cause serious illness. The strain linked to chopped romain lettuce is a Shinga toxin-producing E. coli, which can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, the CDC said.

Most people start feeling sick 3 to 4 days after eating or drinking food contaminated with the bacteria, but it can take up to 10 days for symptoms to start. Patients usually get better within 5 to 7 days.

If diarrhea lasts more than 3 days or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool or so much vomiting that the patient cannot keep down liquids, a doctor must be called, the agency said.

This current outbreak is not related to the recent multi-state outbreak of E. coli that had been linked to leafy greens in December 2017. In that instance, 25 people were sickened and one person died.