The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli O157:H7) infections linked to romaine lettuce.

Image/Robert Herriman
Image/Robert Herriman

The CDC reports that 32 people in 11 states have been infected with the same outbreak strain of E. coli.  There are two individuals in Illinois who have tested positive for this same strain.

CDC is advising people not to eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until CDC learns more about the outbreak.  The investigation is ongoing and CDC will update its advice as more information is available.

Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.  This includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.  If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.

Symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection vary for each person, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.  Some people may have a slight fever.  Most people get better within 5 to 7 days.  Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

Most people who are infected will start feeling sick 3 to 4 days after eating or drinking something that contains the bacteria.  However, illnesses can start anywhere from 1 to 10 days after exposure.  Contact your health care provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days or is accompanied by fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine.