New Advice: Stay Away From Lettuce
People should stay away from romaine lettuce until U.S. and Canadian health officials get to the bottom of an outbreak of E. coli infections, Consumer Reports says.
The consumer advocacy group called on the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do more to warn people about the outbreak, which at last count had made 58 people sick in the U.S. and Canada. One person has died.
The CDC last reported on the outbreak on December 28. It said 17 people were sick in 13 states, dating back to November. The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported on 41 illnesses.
“The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak in Canada,” the CDC said in its Dec. 28 statement.
“In the United States, state and local public health officials are interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the week before their illness started. CDC is still collecting information to determine whether there is a food item in common among sick people, including leafy greens and romaine,” it added.
“Because we have not identified a source of the infections, CDC is unable to recommend whether U.S. residents should avoid a particular food.”
Thorough cooking usually kills foodborne bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella, but lettuce is not usually cooked.
“Even though we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that romaine lettuce is almost always consumed raw,” said James Roger, food safety director at Consumer Reports.
Consumers Union’s Jean Halloran said people should get stronger warnings.
“The FDA should follow the lead of the Canadian government and immediately warn the public about this risk,” she said.
“The available data strongly suggest that romaine lettuce is the source of the U.S. outbreak. If so, and people aren’t warned, more may get sick.”
But the FDA said there just isn’t enough information yet.
“Interviews of ill people haven’t identified a likely source for the US illnesses. At this time, we are still investigating, and when we have information that consumers can use – such as any foods to avoid – we will share it immediately,” the FDA said in a statement issued late Thursday.