There’s a major E. coli outbreak, and this common vegetable could be the culprit

A major E. coli outbreak is sweeping the U.S. and Canada. And a vegetable popular in salads might be the culprit. On January 4th Consumer Reports urged Americans to avoid romaine lettuce for now in response to the spread of this bacteria.

On December 11th, the Public Health Agency of Canada announced that the E. coli outbreak was linked to romaine lettuce. But the jury’s still out on the cause in the U.S. In a statement issued on December 28th, the CDC reported that it was still collecting data and interviewing E. coli patients in an attempt to find out if they had eaten any of the same foods.

The CDC reported that the outbreak began on November 15th and has infected 17 people in 13 states, with 41 reported cases in Canada. So far, one person has died. Five people in the U.S. have been hospitalized.

Although E. coli bacteria are naturally present in the intestines, this particular strain of the bacteria can wreak havoc on the digestive tract, causing symptoms like diarrhea and a low fever. While  most people recover after about a week, in rare cases E. coli can lead to complications like kidney failure.

Anyone can get E. coli, but young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems have a much higher risk of contracting the disease. Food can be contaminated with the bacteria when it comes into contact with feces or fecal matter. Raw produce and undercooked beef are the most common ways to get sick with E. coli, so washing produce can help keep you healthy.

Having an outbreak of a major disease linked to such a common food is unsettling to say the least. But thankfully, if you’re a die-hard salad fan, there are other leafy greens you can munch on, including plenty of creative ways to eat kale. This E. coli outbreak is a reminder to be diligent in practicing food safety, but as long as you cut romaine from your diet for a while, you’ll probably be okay.