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Romaine lettuce E. Coli outbreak narrowed down to five California counties

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2018 file photo, romaine lettuce sits on the shelves as a shopper walks through the produce area of an Albertsons market in Simi Valley, Calif.  After repeated food poisoning outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce, the produce industry is confronting the failure of its own safety measures in preventing contaminations. The latest outbreak underscores the challenge of eliminating risk for vegetables grown in open fields and eaten raw. It also highlights the role of nearby cattle operations and the delay of stricter federal food safety regulations.  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2018 file photo, romaine lettuce sits on the shelves as a shopper walks through the produce area of an Albertsons market in Simi Valley, Calif. After repeated food poisoning outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce, the produce industry is confronting the failure of its own safety measures in preventing contaminations. The latest outbreak underscores the challenge of eliminating risk for vegetables grown in open fields and eaten raw. It also highlights the role of nearby cattle operations and the delay of stricter federal food safety regulations. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Ellie Okonak, Staff Writer

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The nationwide outbreak of E. Coli, affecting 52 people across 15 different US states, was linked by the FDA to romaine lettuce in California. As of now, romaine lettuce in grocery stores is, for the most part, safe to eat, but the FDA has not determined which specific crops were originally harmful.

The first reported case of this specific strain of E. Coli, called E. Coli O157:H7, was on Oct. 6, 2018, according to the CDC. Since then, multiple cases have been reported. People that contract the infection may get sick 2-8 days after swallowing the germ. Cases range from mild to life-threatening, and the most common symptoms are severe stomach cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.

In addition to these symptoms, the infected person may develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) about a week after the first signs of the infection appear. HUS can be fatal. People with HUS may feel fatigued, experience a loss of color in the cheeks and lower eyelids, and have decreased frequency of urination. They need to be hospitalized immediately in order to prevent permanent damage. According to the New York Times, 13 people have been hospitalized from E. Coli O157:H7, including one case of a kidney failure.

The area of investigation is narrowed down somewhat to romaine lettuce grown in California’s Central Coast region. As of Nov. 30, the FDA began focusing on five specific counties: Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura. This is following the FDA’s warning only 10 days earlier to stay away from all romaine lettuce.

With the FDA’s announcement, grocery stores have started to restock lettuce products. According to The Packer, “Both bulk and processed value-added items such as salad kits will begin appearing on shelves Dec. 2.” Consumers should still be aware and verify that the lettuce they purchase is not from northern or central California. Canada is still adding import rules on lettuce from the US, mandating that all romaine lettuce and salad blends be clearly labeled. There have been 27 total Canadian cases of E. Coli.

There are a few other consequences from the contamination of romaine lettuce. Prices have increased for other lettuce varieties, including iceberg, Boston, red leaf and green leaf lettuces, according to Cooking Light.

The FDA continues their search for specific Californian lettuce crops that may contain E. Coli. For now, consumers should double check that lettuce purchased from the grocery store is not from northern or central regions of California. If you or someone you know shows symptoms of E. Coli or HUS, they should be taken to the hospital immediately.

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About the Writer
Ellie Okonak, Staff Writer

Ellie is a 10th grader at Liberty High School. She runs on the school cross country and track teams. This is Ellie's first year writing for the Patriot...

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Romaine lettuce E. Coli outbreak narrowed down to five California counties