Canadian officials said today an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce is over, but US officials are continuing to investigate the deadly foodborne illness outbreak that they believe is linked to leafy greens.
The last reported illness in the United States was on December 12, suggesting that the risk of buying food contaminated in the current outbreak had passed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement on Wednesday.
Eighteen people have become ill, nine people were hospitalized, and one person died in California. This means it's likely that there's a source of the outbreak that both countries shared, according to a press release issued by the agency when the outbreak was first announced in December.
"To avoid any confusion and in an abundance of caution, we have temporarily removed romaine lettuce from our restaurants in the USA and Canada", said Heidi Schauer, Wendy's spokeswoman. "Canada has identified the source as romaine lettuce", says Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) showed that the STEC O157:H7 strain from ill people in the United States is closely related genetically to the STEC O157:H7 strain from ill people in Canada.
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CDC and FDA will continue to update the public as more information on the outbreak source is uncovered. This percentage was not significantly higher than results from a survey of healthy people in which 46% reported eating romaine lettuce in the week before they were interviewed.
With the investigation ongoing the CDC is not recommending people avoid any particular food at this time. CDC continues to work with regulatory partners in several states, at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to identify the source. Two people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. There's no official government recall in the United States - yet. People usually get sick from E. coli O157:H7 three to four days after eating food contaminated with the germ. "You can't taste, smell or see E. coli, which is what makes it so unsafe".
You can protect yourself by washing your hands thoroughly before and after preparing or eating food. Contamination is also possible at the grocery store, in the refrigerator, or from counters and cutting boards through cross-contamination with bacteria from raw meat, poultry or seafood. The Public Health Agency of Canada began advising people in the five implicated provinces to consider not eating romaine until further notice. It's also important to avoid preparing food when you are sick, particularly if you are sick with diarrhea. At least 41 people were sickened in that country, with one death. While the lettuce that may have caused the illnesses is no longer on the market, we do not know where the products were sold, or where the leafy green was grown, harvested, or processed.