Have romaine lettuce in your fridge but not sure where it was grown? It's time to toss it ASAP. The Centers for Disease Control has expanded its E. coli warning to all romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona region. If you've eaten romaine lettuce lately, it's important to know that as of April 20, 53 people reported experiencing symptoms of an E. coli infection across 16 states. This means that the contamination is not terribly widespread — but it's still better to be safe than sorry.
If you're experiencing diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, and vomiting, those are all symptoms of the infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you want to avoid these unpleasant symptoms, the CDC advised that "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."
"Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you’re uncertain about where it was grown," the CDC wrote. "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."
The Mayo Clinic explained on its website that lettuce can become contaminated by E. coli when run off from cattle farms that have infected cows mixes with vegetable crops, which is why you should always wash your produce thoroughly.
Additionally, the journal PLOS ONE published a study earlier this year that surmised that E. coli is spread in cattle through contaminated water troughs, especially during the summer months. This is why E. coli outbreaks are most common between June and September. While most cattle don't develop symptoms, they expel the bacteria in their feces, which then contaminates soil and can spread to other crops. While not everyone who is exposed to E. coli gets sick, and symptoms can vary from person to person, people with weakened immune systems, young children, the elderly, and those who take stomach-acid-reducing medications are more likely to fall ill from ingesting contaminated food.
In extreme cases, E. coli infections can cause kidney failure, the Mayo Clinic reported. If you just finished eating a Caesar salad, don't panic. However, if you do develop symptoms over the next two to five days, the Mayo Clinic advised you should seek medical attention for E. coli infection if your diarrhea is persistent, severe, or bloody. The type of E. coli reportedly present in the contaminated lettuce is known as E. coli O157:H7, which the Mayo Clinic called one of the nastiest strains.
The scary part is that hemolytic uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure that's linked to an E. coli infection, can develop even after you begin to feel better. If you experience decreased frequency of urination, extreme fatigue, or you're losing that rosy pink color in your cheeks and inside your lower eyelids while recovering from an E. coli infection, the CDC warned that these symptoms could be signs of HUS. This means you'll need to be hospitalized to have your kidney function monitored. The good news is that most people who develop HUS recover within a week. But, you should still seek medical attention to be on the safe side.
Unfortunately, it's unlikely that most places can trace their lettuce back to where it was grown. Unless you're eating at a farm-to-table restaurant that can tell you with certainty where the romaine lettuce was grown, this is the perfect excuse to forgo your salad (unless, of course, it's kale). If you are one of the people who contracted E. coli, WebMD advised that once you start feeling better it's best to stick to low-fiber foods like toast, crackers, rice, eggs. "Dairy products and foods that are high in fat or fiber can make your symptoms worse." In the meantime, drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest. You should start to feel better in about a week.