Officials warn about eating romaine lettuce amid E. coli outbreak

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Feds are trying to get to the bottom of a risky E. coli outbreak spreading across the USA and Canada that seems tied to romaine lettuce, and food-safety experts say that until they do, it's probably smart to just stop eating it.

Other states with reported illnesses are Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.

According to the CDC, five people in the USA have been hospitalized and one has died.

Boston Pizza International Inc. has also temporarily suspended the sale of all types of romaine lettuce at the pizza joint's locations in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada as of December 26, said spokeswoman Alexandra Cygal in an email.

During the past seven weeks, 58 people in the USA and Canada have become ill from the strain of E. coli O157: H7. The most risky effect is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.

An E. coli outbreak has sickened more than a dozen Americans, and it's possible that romaine lettuce could be the source.

A similar outbreak in Canada was traced to romaine lettuce.

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"There is not enough epidemiologic evidence at this time to indicate a specific source of the illnesses in the United States", Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Brittany Behm told Consumer Reports.

The CDC says 17 illnesses have been reported in 13 states since mid-November.

Those most at risk are the young, the elderly and those with impaired immune systems.

In its news release, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it had a total of 41 cases of E. coli infections in an outbreak that involved five eastern provinces. "Depending on how it was contaminated, if it was in one large place and it's the water that was contaminated, that could have implications for other food materials that might have been exposed".

"Based on the Canada investigation, romaine lettuce seems like the most likely source there", Williams said. On Dec. 24, Sobeys Inc. said it is pulling more than 300 romaine lettuce products from its shelves at stores across the country.

While washing any greens may help avoid some illnesses, Consumer Reports warns that it may not get rid of all E. coli bacteria that may be present.

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