At the start of the year, Consumer Reports revealed that in a span of seven weeks more than 58 people in the United States and Canada have become ill with a very dangerous strain of E. Coli bacteria after consuming romaine lettuce.
This particular type of E. coli produces a toxin that may lead to kidney failure, serious illness, and death.
Multiple people were hospitalized, and two deaths were later reported in the U.S. and in Canada.
Unfortunately, the situation seems to only be getting worse 11 months later.
This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning Americans to stop eating romaine lettuce, including "whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and ready-to-eat salad mixes that contain romaine, as they may still be contaminated with the bacteria.
"The strain in 2017 is the same as the strain in this fall 2018 outbreak, and the time of year is exactly the same. So It's likely associated with end of season harvest in California," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
The latest report shows that 13 more people in the U.S. have recently been hospitalized due to the widespread outbreak. While no deaths have been reported at this time, at least one of the patients has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure.
Infections have been reported in states across the country, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Our neighbors up north have also reported 18 illnesses in Ontario and Quebec caused by the same strain of E.Coli.
Health officials have been investigating the outbreak, but haven't been able to trace it back to a specific supplier.
Gottlieb said that is is "frustrating" that they're unable to tie the issue to a grower, but "we have confidence that it's tied to romaine lettuce."
"Most of the romaine lettuce being harvested right now is coming from the California region, although there's some lettuce coming in from Mexico," he added.
Simply washing the greens won't get rid of this deadly strain, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also urging everyone to throw out any romaine lettuce they have at home. Even if you have eaten it and didn't get sick, you should get rid of it as precaution.
Restaurants and retailers are also urges not to sell products containing romaine lettuce until more information is available.
E. Coli Symptoms
E. Coli symptoms won't always appear right away; They could take between one to 10 days after eating tainted food, but according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people become sick within three to four days.
Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), fever (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), and vomiting. While most people will recover after about a week, around five to 10 percent develop a potentially life-threatening kidney complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
Although anyone can be infected, children under the age of five, those with weakened immune systems, and adults over 65 are are higher risk of developing severe illness after eating contaminated food.
"That's why we think it's critical to get this information out," Gottlieb said. "We understand fully the impact this has, not just on the growers and the distributors but also on consumers - consumers who are preparing meals for the holidays, who have product now that they're going to need to discard, maybe food that they've already cooked."