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E. coli outbreak update: It might be safe to buy and eat romaine lettuce again

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 5/17/2018 By David J. Neal, Miami Herald

a close up of a green bowl filled with broccoli and lettuce: Health officials are urging consumers to throw out store-bought chopped romaine lettuce after an E. coli outbreak. © Dreamstime/Los Angeles Times/TNS Health officials are urging consumers to throw out store-bought chopped romaine lettuce after an E. coli outbreak. Though the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak sickened more people in more states over the last week, the true news in Wednesday's CDC update concerns the lettuce.

It might be safe to eat romaine lettuce again.

Romaine lettuce of all varieties from the Yuma, Ariz., region has been blamed as the source of this outbreak. But the last shipment of romaine from Yuma left on April 16 and the growing season there is over.

"It is unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still available in stores or restaurants due to its 21-day shelf life," the Centers for Disease Control said Wednesday. "It takes two to three weeks between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported to CDC. The most recent illnesses reported to CDC started when romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region was likely still available in stores, restaurants, and in peoples' homes."

The most recent cases reported by the CDC started May 2, part of the 23 new cases across the nation in the last week, bringing the total to 172. Of the 157 people who were ill that the CDC has information on, 75 have been hospitalized and 20 have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), the form of kidney failure that can be fatal. The death in California remains the only one in this outbreak.

California still has the most cases, 39, followed by Pennsylvania (21); Minnesota (12); Idaho (11); New Jersey, Montana, Arizona, Alaska (eight each); Washington (seven); Ohio (six); New York and Michigan (five each); Georgia (four); Wisconsin, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Colorado (three each); Connecticut, Illinois, North Dakota (two each); Florida, Texas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia (one each).

While the FDA and CDC haven't been able to trace the outbreak beyond just the general area of the Yuma region, food safety attorney Bill Marler is trying to track back via lawsuit.

Marler, representing five clients hospitalized with E. coli, one of which developed HUS, has filed suits in New Jersey, California, Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania against the restaurants who served his clients (Panera Bread, Red Lobster and Papa Murphy's). This could lead to restaurants giving up suppliers and suppliers having to disclose their lettuce's chain of custody.

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