"Even though we can't say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the USA, a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that romaine lettuce is nearly always consumed raw", according to James Rogers, Ph.D, who is CR's director of food safety and research.
The CDC said Thursday that it is investigating 17 E. coli cases in 13 states reported from November 15-Dec.
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. In sad news for those of us looking to make January a month of fresh greens, in response to the indulgence of the holidays, Consumer Reports is now advising that we avoid eating romaine lettuce after an E. coli outbreak has been linked to at least two deaths.
It's certainly possible that the two outbreaks could be the same, but USA officials say they need more evidence to make that conclusion.
Consumer Reports' researchers say romaine is especially hazardous because it's nearly always eaten raw, and the director of its Food Policy Initiatives advises the FDA to do what the Canadian government did and "immediately warn the public" about romaine's potential risks.
Authorities in Canada are also investigating an outbreak of E. coli infections in some of its provinces, the CDC said.
Until the cause of the current outbreak is known and the implicated food is removed from the supply chain, CR's experts say consumers should avoid eating any romaine lettuce.
"This time of year, most of our lettuce will come from southern places ... so if it's affecting both countries, it may be from California or Mexico or other countries that produce romaine lettuce", said Schellhorn.
Chapman suspects that officials will make an announcement soon about whether the US and Canadian outbreaks are indeed the same. Infections with E. coli O157 can be life-threatening, especially for the elderly, the very young and immune-compromised people, such as cancer patients, Williams said. "If so, and people aren't warned, more may get sick". "Consumers should also check salad blends and mixes, and avoid those that contain romaine". Using its more than 60 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.