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A bacterial outbreak in the United States has been linked to contaminated romaine lettuce.
Store-bought chopped lettuce was discovered to have E. coli, a bacterium usually found in raw milk, fruits, and vegetables and undercooked beef. Specifically, the lettuce has E. coli O157:H7, a toxin-producing strain that harms red blood cells and kidneys. Symptoms of the infection caused by this strain include stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.
The E. coli outbreak, which reportedly started in March, has led to a rising number of cases of infections in over 20 states. As of May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the infection has caused one death in California.
Because of this, the CDC has cautioned that consumers should avoid romaine lettuce, especially if it is from Yuma, Arizona. The region is known to produce most of the lettuce harvested in the country during winter. In fact, Yuma-based Harrison Farms was reported to be the producer of the romaine lettuce that led to the illness of eight inmates at a correctional facility in Alaska.
Although it is considered as one of the worst in the United States, the outbreak is not the first one to strike this year. In January, 25 people from 15 states were infected with the same E. coli strain. The CDC identified leafy vegetables as the outbreak’s source.
Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety director Jeff Farber explained that leafy vegetables like lettuce are prone to E. coli contamination because of their exposure to unclean soil, water, and animals.