An E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce resulted in the death of a California patient, the CDC reported Wednesday. The outbreak was first announced on April 10, and over the past few weeks, 121 infections have been reported in 25 different states. Nearly half of those affected were hospitalized, with 14 people developing kidney failure.
The FDA hasn’t issued a formal romaine recall, but the CDC is urging people to take extreme caution with all lettuce products. Initially, the outbreak was thought to impact only packaged salads, but now the CDC says that all romaine products should be regarded with suspicion. Because E. coli infections manifest in different people at different levels of severity, even those with the hardiest constitution have been warned not to take any chances. While E. coli infections are common and most strains are relatively harmless, the high hospitalization rate suggests an aggressive outbreak.
Thankfully, avoiding the outbreak doesn’t require too much exertion. Because the contaminated lettuce has already been traced back to Yuma, Arizona, the CDC’s main tip for avoiding E. Coli is pretty simple: Don’t eat lettuce unless you are 100 percent sure it’s not from Yuma. Washing it won’t do the trick, as the bacteria gets inside of the leaf rather than remaining on the surface. Lots of lettuce products aren’t location-tagged on the packaging, so unless you grew that lettuce, might be best to forgo a salad for another couple weeks.
If you do end up with an E. coli infection, it’s important to see a doctor right away, as this particular strain has proven to be rather potent. Symptoms usually take 3-4 days to develop and include stomach cramps, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. The main treatment for an E. coli infection is constant hydration and sometimes anti-nausea medication (given by a doctor). Antibiotics shouldn’t be administered to an E. coli patient.
Typically, E. coli outbreaks don’t last more than a few months. It’s safe to go back to Chipotle, and soon enough it will be safe to eat romaine lettuce.