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Dangerous E. coli outbreak possibly linked to romaine lettuce

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An E. coli outbreak in Canada and at least 13 U.S. states may be linked to romaine lettuce, according to Consumer Reports.

Over the past several weeks, 58 people in the U.S. and Canada have become sick from a strain of the bacteria.

In the U.S., the infections have occurred in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington state. Five have been hospitalized and one person has died in California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There has also been one death in Canada.

Consumer Reports says people should stay away from romaine lettuce until health officials in both countries can identify exactly what sparked the outbreak.

“The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak in Canada,” the CDC said in a Dec. 28 statement, when the organization last reported on the outbreak.

“In the United States, state and local public health officials are interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the week before their illness started. CDC is still collecting information to determine whether there is a food item in common among sick people, including leafy greens and romaine,” it added.

The Canadian health authorities are advising people to try to eat other types of greens until further notice, Consumer Reports says. In the U.S., officials have stopped short of recommending people avoid romaine lettuce.

Publix released a statement Thursday regarding the outbreak.

“We have been monitoring an outbreak of E.coli linked to Romaine lettuce, first in Canada and now in the U.S., including a death in California,” the statement says.

“All Publix suppliers have confirmed they are not involved with this situation. We are continuing to monitor this situation as it develops.”

The strain of E. coli involved in the outbreak produces a toxin that in some cases can lead to serious illness, kidney failure, and death, the organization says.

Cooking usually kills foodborne bacteria, but lettuce is not usually cooked.

“Even though we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that romaine lettuce is almost always consumed raw,” said James Roger, director of food safety and research at Consumer Reports.

Samantha Putterman: 941-745-7027, @samputterman

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