On this most blessed of days, the Centers for Disease and Prevention is telling everyone to stay the hell away from a different sort of green, one that might cause you to have bloody diarrhea and vomiting for days on end: romaine lettuce.
Just today, officials updated their warning over an outbreak of Escherichia coli linked to romaine that has spread to at least 16 states and sickened over 50 people since mid-March. The warning now concerns all types of romaine lettuce originating from the Yuma, Arizona region. Previously, the warning only covered chopped romaine.
“Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the warning stated. “This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.”
Restaurants and retailers are also being told to not serve or sell any romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona.
Previously, cases were only traced to eating chopped romaine lettuce. But on Thursday, Alaska health officials reported that at least some of the eight victims who got sick at a correctional facility had eaten whole heads of lettuce right before.
The culprit behind the outbreak is a strain of E. coli called O157:H7, which produces a potent biotoxin known as Shiga. Symptoms include horrible stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting.
So far, there have 31 hospitalizations traced to the outbreak, and five have developed a rare form of kidney failure caused by O157:H7 infections, called hemolytic uremic syndrome. There have been no deaths reported yet, but the mortality rate of these more severe cases is typically 5 percent.
The CDC hasn’t identified a common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand as of yet, but at least one distributor, Freshway Foods, has issued a recall. One of their clients, Panera Bread, where several cases are thought to have occurred, has also been hit with a lawsuit by a New Jersey woman who says her infection led to kidney failure.
If you’re unlucky enough to have blissfully eaten romaine in ignorance, then stay on the lookout for symptoms of a stomach bug including diarrhea lasting for longer for three days or turning bloody, being unable to pee, uncontrollable vomiting, or an especially high fever. People with these symptoms should seek immediate medical help.
If you’re like me, and cannot tell the difference between types of lettuce even after having viewed many photographs of them, don’t take the risk—throw it all out.