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Throw away your romaine lettuce to avoid potential illness, CDC warns

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Paul Sakuma | Associated Press

The federal government is urging Americans to throw out any romaine lettuce they might have because it could make them sick.

A national E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce from Yuma, Ariz., has expanded to 53 cases in 16 states, including Pennsylvania, USA Today reported. Pennsylvania has been the hardest hit state so far with 12 cases, followed by Idaho with 10. Other states reporting E. coli cases are New Jersey, Montana and Arizona. More than half of those sick are women or girls.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said all store-bought chopped romaine lettuce, including salad and mixes with romaine should not be eaten and thrown away.

This particular strain of E. coli toxin can lead to kidney failure, and possibly death, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease expert for Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Symptoms of this E. coli infection include bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal pain that occur hours after eating the contaminated food.

“If this happens go to the emergency room,” he said.

The outbreak started March 13 and has resulted in 31 hospitalizations, including five cases of kidney failure. Giant Eagle, Inc. has recalled multiple food items prepared with romaine lettuce and sold at its Giant Eagle, Market District and GetGo stores in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio.

People dining out should ask servers if the romaine lettuce is coming from the Yuma area.

“If you cannot confirm the source of the romaine lettuce, do not buy it or eat it,” the CDC said on its website .

Food distributors have efficient systems in place to ensure they contact their customers if a product is possibly tainted, said John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.

“The most important thing to restaurant operators is to ensure the safety of the products they serve,” he told the Tribune-Review Friday.

Longstreet praised the CDC for instructing customers to ask restaurants where romaine lettuce came from.

“Not every restaurant buys produce through a distributor,” he said. “Many use farm to table. If all the romaine lettuce in question came from Yuma and the Pennsylvania restaurant is buying local, it seems like they won’t have any tainted product.”

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