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E. coli outbreak linked to chopped romaine lettuce sends more people to the hospital

53 infections have been reported across 16 states

by Associated Press and Marguerite Ward /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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At least 18 more people have been infected in the latest E. coli outbreak linked to chopped romaine lettuce, bringing the total to 53 illnesses in 16 states. Thirty-one people have been hospitalized, with five facing potentially life-threatening kidney failure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.

The current outbreak is causing a higher rate of hospitalizations than usual for E. coli and health officials are trying to determine why this outbreak is more severe. No deaths have been reported.

The CDC has advised consumers to avoid chopped romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona. To date, the agency has not identified a common grower, supplier, distributor or brand.

The states affected by the E. coli outbreak are:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • Washington
 How many E. coli cases linked to chopped romaine lettuce are in each of the 16 affected states, as of April 18, 2018. Roque Ruiz / CDC

While the CDC has focused on chopped romaine — including organic, salads and salad mixes — other food experts suggested avoiding all types of romaine lettuce until more is known.

“This is a very virulent strain of bacteria,” James Rogers, director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports, told TODAY. “This is nothing to play with.”

Rogers, who heads a team consisting of a food microbiologist, researchers and reporters, said it's not always easy to identify romaine in a salad or where it's from.

“Sometimes, our experts say, romaine lettuce isn’t always included as an ingredient in mixed salad bags, or the location where the lettuce is from isn’t listed,” Rogers said.

“And some people can’t really tell the difference between romaine lettuce and other types of lettuce when looking at a bag of salad,” he added.

The CDC responded that, so far, the investigation has identified only chopped romaine lettuce as the source of illnesses.

“None of the ill people have reported eating whole heads or hearts of romaine," Brittany Behm, a CDC spokeswoman told TODAY via email. "Restaurants reported using bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make salads, that ill people reported eating.”

“This is a very virulent strain of bacteria"

“This is a very virulent strain of bacteria"

The CDC advised consumers to not eat romaine lettuce if their server cannot identify where it’s from, a warning Rogers repeated.

“My standard is always, ‘Would I advise me and my family to dine that way?’ And I wouldn’t,” he said.

If you think you may have purchased chopped romaine lettuce recently, the CDC has specific advice.

"Throw away all chopped romaine lettuce, including salad mixes containing romaine," the CDC is warning. "Clean all fridge, counter, and food surfaces with warm soapy water."

Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.

The current illnesses are separate from an E. coli outbreak in December and January linked to leafy greens or romaine, which caused dozens of illnesses in the U.S. and Canada and killed at least one person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that outbreak — its source was not identified in the U.S. — over in January.

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