Are you planning to prepare a big green salad for your Thanksgiving dinner table? If you have already purchased romaine lettuce to use in it, food safety officials want you to throw it out.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) took the unusual step Tuesday of warning consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any of it until it learns more about an outbreak of a strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli that has been linked to romaine and sickened dozens of people in 11 states.
To date there have been no reports of illness related to the outbreak in Pennsylvania, but three people have been sickened in New Jersey, two in New York and one in Maryland, according to a CDC map of reported cases.
The CDC said reports of illness related to the outbreak began between Oct. 8 and Oct. 31.
No deaths have been reported to date but 13 people have been hospitalized, including one person who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a type of kidney failure.
“This investigation is ongoing and the advice will be updated as more information is available,” the CDC said in a news release about the outbreak Tuesday.
In the meantime, consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should throw it away, even if some of it has been eaten and no one has gotten sick, the CDC said.
All types or uses of romaine lettuce–including whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine and bags and boxes of precut lettuce as well as salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix and Caesar salad–should be avoided.
“If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away,” the CDC news release said.
Individuals and food service-related businesses should also clean and sanitize drawers or shelves in refrigerators where romaine has been stored by following these five steps.
Symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infection can vary, but may include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting, according to the CDC. Some people may develop a mild fever (less than 101˚F). Most people get better within 5 to 7 days, but some infections can be severe or even life-threatening, particularly if an infected individual develops hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
“Most people with a STEC infection start feeling sick 3 to 4 days after eating or drinking something that contains the bacteria,” the CDC said. “However, illnesses can start anywhere from 1 to 10 days after exposure. Contact your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine.”
If you believe you have symptoms of an E. coli infection the CDC advises that you:
- Talk to your healthcare provider.
- Write down what you ate in the week before you started to get sick.
- Report your illness to the health department.
- Assist public health investigators by answering questions about your illness.