Here’s what you need to know about the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak

Here’s what you need to know about the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak
Romaine lettuce is displayed Monday at a supermarket in San Rafael, California. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising consumers to throw away and avoid eating Romaine lettuce, especially if its origin is from Yuma, Arizona. Investigators are trying to figure out the cause of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 53 people in 16 states. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that certain strains of romaine lettuce are contaminated with E. coli. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself safe.

How large is the outbreak?

The CDC reported that there have been instances of this outbreak in 16 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

So far, there have been 53 reported instances of people being affected, and 31 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported so far.

Remind me again, what is E. coli?

E. coli, short for the much harder to pronounce “Escherichia coli,” is a strain of bacteria. Most E. coli strains are harmless, and some are naturally occuring inside the human digestive system. However,  some strains can cause a range of symptoms including diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia.

Is it only romaine lettuce?

Yes. So far only romaine lettuce is known to be affected, and only romaine grown in Yuma, Arizona. However, CBS News reports that around 90 percent of all lettuce grown in the United States between November and March comes from the Yuma region.

Has the contaminated lettuce been recalled?

No. At the time of this article, there has not been any recall related to this outbreak.

Here’s how to make sure you stay safe

First and foremost, avoid buying or eating romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. However, this might not be enough. According to the CDC website:

Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.

Even after the possibly infected lettuce has been thrown away, the CDC is urging people to “wash and sanitize drawers or shelves in refrigerators where romaine lettuce was stored.”

The CDC also warned that product labels “often do not identify growing regions,” so it may be difficult to tell whether or not lettuce was grown in Yuma.

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