You can eat romaine again; CDC: tainted lettuce likely gone

- Although more states are reporting cases of people sickened by tainted romaine lettuce, the CDC implied that romaine is probably safe to eat again.

More than 170 people in 32 states have fallen ill from eating romaine lettuce contaminated with the bacteria E. coli, the CDC said.  At least one death was linked to the lettuce.

But the last shipments of lettuce grown in the region in Arizona believed to be the source of the contamination were harvested on April 16. the CDC said, and the harvest season is over.

Lettuce has a 21-day shelf life, which means that any romaine sold in stores or served in restaurants right now is unlikely to be from the tainted region, the CDC said.

Because of a lag in the reporting of illnesses to the CDC, the most recent E. coli cases started when romaine from the Yuma region was likely still in stores, restaurants, and homes.

The Yuma region, which is roughly 185 miles (298 kilometers) southwest of Phoenix and close to the California border, is referred to as the country's "winter vegetable capital." It is known for its agriculture and often revels in it with events like a lettuce festival.

Steve Alameda, president of the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association, which represents local growers, said the outbreak has weighed heavily on him and other farmers.

"We want to know what happened," Alameda said. "We can't afford to lose consumer confidence. It's heartbreaking to us. We take this very personally."

Growers in Yuma typically plant romaine lettuce between September and January. During the peak of the harvest season, which runs from mid-November until the beginning of April, the Yuma region supplies most of the romaine sold in the U.S., Alameda said. The outbreak came as the harvest of romaine was already near its end.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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