Americans may want to push back their New Year's resolutions to eat more leafy greens -- romaine lettuce has been tied to an E. coli outbreak in Canada and similar cases have been reported in the U.S.
Since November 2017, 58 cases of E. coli infection have been reported in the U.S. and Canada. Of those cases, 17 occurred in 13 U.S. states. Five Americans have been hospitalized and one has died in connection to E. coli, according to Consumer Reports.
E. coli infections have been reported in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.
The Public Health Agency of Canada cited romaine lettuce as the source of the infections on Dec. 28, 2017, though the CDC is still monitoring cases to determine if the lettuce is also causing illnesses in the U.S., reports Today.
"In the United States, state and local public health officials are interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the week before their illness started," the CDC said in a statement issued on Dec. 28, 2017. "CDC is still collecting information to determine whether there is a food item in common among sick people, including leafy greens and romaine."
The CDC added that because it has not identified a source of the outbreak, it is "unable to recommend whether U.S. residents should avoid a particular food."
It can take weeks for health officials to track down the source of an outbreak, Today reports. Preliminary genome sequencing results from the CDC show that the strain of E. coli in Canada is related to the one in the U.S. But neither the U.S. nor Canada have released information on where the lettuce was grown, packaged or shipped.
Consumer advocacy groups believe the CDC and FDA are being too soft on placing a warning on romaine lettuce. Consumers Union’s Jean Halloran said more people could become sick if the health and food safety agencies don't act. Consumer Reports has already issued a warning.
"Even though we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that romaine lettuce is almost always consumed raw,” said Consumer Reports food safety director James Rogers.
Rogers says seniors, children and people with health conditions that compromise their immune system, such as those with cancer or diabetes, should be particularly wary of eating raw romaine lettuce and may wish to avoid it.