CDC: Don't eat romaine lettuce due to E. coli outbreak

Federal health officials are advising U.S. consumers to not eat any romaine lettuce at this time because of a new outbreak of E. coli infections.

"If you don't know if it's romaine or can't confirm the source, don't eat it," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is investigating the outbreak.

The CDC's advice applies to "all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad."

The CDC is also advising restaurants and food retailers to stop serving and selling romaine lettuce, including salads and salad mixes with romaine.

If you have romaine lettuce at home, you should throw it away and then wash and sanitize where you stored it, such as the drawers and shelves of your refrigerator. The CDC advises washing the storage area with warm, soapy water. Then rinse off the soap with clean water and dry with a clean towel.

The outbreak strain of E. coli has infected at least 32 people in 11 U.S. states so far, according to public health investigators. On top of that, Canada's Public Health Agency has identified 18 people infected with the same DNA fingerprint of E. coli in Ontario and Quebec.

E. coli bacteria are found in nature, such as in the environment, in food, and in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli strains are harmless and indeed part of a healthy gut.

But strains that produce Shiga toxin cause illnesses. Symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection include stomach cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, and fever, according to the CDC. Most people get better in a week or less, but some can experience life-threatening infection.