Over the past seven weeks, 59 people in the U.S. and Canada have fallen ill from a known dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria, most likely from eating romaine lettuce, according to the CDC.
Canadian health authorities confirmed romaine as the source of the outbreak in Canada and have advised people in five eastern provinces to consider other types of salad greens until the cause of contamination is identified.
In the U.S., the infections have spread across the 13 states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington state.
One death has been reported in Canada as a result of the outbreak, while five people in the U.S. have been hospitalized. Officials are currently performing genome sequencing on samples of bacteria making people sick in the U.S. to confirm if the illnesses are related to the ones in Canada. The CDC reported preliminary results showing the types of E. coli in both countries are closely related.
James Rogers, the CDC's director of Food Safety and Research, told Consumer Reports that the outbreak is not positively linked to romaine lettuce, but a "greater degree of caution" is needed given that lettuce greens are typically consumed raw.
Some Canadian stores have pulled romaine off their store shelves, while the source of infections remains unidentified. The CDC's investigation is ongoing, but officials are unable to recommend whether residents should avoid a particular food. Canada's Public Health Agency warns that contaminated romaine lettuce may still be circulating in markets, including restaurants and any establishment that serves food.
Although E. coli outbreaks are typically linked to beef, infections due to leafy greens are not unheard of. Romaine lettuce was the cause of outbreaks in 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2013, according to Consumer Reports.
Rogers warns that washing leafy greens does not completely safeguard people from E. coli, which can cling to leaves. The safest bet is cutting romaine out of your diet completely until there is more information on the source of the contamination. Check all salad blends and mixes and avoid ones that contain romaine, and give all leafy greens a thorough washing.