Romaine Lettuce Might Be Tainted with Deadly E. Coli, Experts Warn

Flickr  Ruth Hartnup									SOURCE Flickr  Ruth Hartnup

But at least one large US organization has taken a preemptive step: Yesterday, Consumer Reports advised Americans to stop eating romaine lettuce until the cause of the outbreak is identified and products are removed from store shelves.

In the US, officials with the CDC, the FDA, and state public health authorities have been conducting interviews with the 17 people who have become ill in the USA outbreak, to learn what they ate in the week before their illness.

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) and FDA are investigating, but the US has not yet issued a similar recommendation.

The CDC, which last reported on the outbreak on December 28, said 17 people were sick in the 13 states dating back to November.

Canadian health officials said they continue to receive reports of illness linked to romaine lettuce and that contaminated product may still be on the market. Morrison said until more is known about the source and cause of the contamination, it is best to avoid romaine lettuce. You should also check pre-packaged salad blends and mixes, and avoid any that contain romaine.

"[To] say 'avoid romaine for now, ' I don't know if I have enough information to agree with that statement", said Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late last week it's investigating a multi-state outbreak of E. coli that appears to be genetically similar to the bacterial that has made at least 41 Canadians ill as well.

But Chapman was less certain about this recommendation. But once romaine is cleared as safe to eat, it's still important to thoroughly wash your leaves before eating them. "It could be that there's a different [food] source of this exact same pathogen", he said.

It's certainly possible that the two outbreaks could be the same, but USA officials say they need more evidence to make that conclusion.

The consumer advocacy group is now calling on the Food and Drug Administration and CDC to do more to warn the public about the dangers of the outbreak.

Chapman suspects that officials will make an announcement soon about whether the US and Canadian outbreaks are indeed the same.