Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak Has Claimed Its First Casualty [UPDATED]

Thursday, May 3 Update: CNN and other outlets report today that the E. coli outbreak tied to prepackaged chopped romaine lettuce has now spread to 25 states, affecting 121 people, including the outbreak's first casualty in California. The CDC stated earlier this week that "the strain identified in this outbreak is particularly virulent and known to be associated with higher hospitalization and complication rates." Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting, and begin three to four days after consuming the tainted substance. The most recent cases reported symptoms starting on April 21.

If you miss romaine lettuce, yesterday Lifehacker offered a substitute for your Caesar salad needs, even though it pointed out "it's reportedly safe to consume romaine lettuce that you're positively sure isn't from Yuma, Arizona." Still, "it's also perfectly normal to feel a little wary of that particular leaf."

[Note: Lifehacker, like The Takeout, is owned by Univision Communications.]

Thursday, April 20: We reported earlier this week on various food safety issues, including an E. coli outbreak tied to chopped romaine lettuce sold in prepackaged salad mixes. Since then, the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention has reported that the outbreak has spread to 16 states and has affected 53 people. So now, the CDC is very clear on its website: "If you have store-bought chopped romaine lettuce at home, including salads and salad mixes with chopped romaine, don't eat it and throw it away." Can't get much clearer than that.

The CDC says that the outbreak can not be traced to a specific farmer or supplier, it does say that the affected lettuce appears to come from the Yuma, Arizona region. But if you're curious as to how the CDC manages to track these types of outbreaks, NPR notes that the CDC traced the infection "to romaine lettuce after interviewing many of the sick people and asking about the foods they had eaten and other exposures before they became ill. Nearly all—41 of 43—said they had eaten romaine lettuce in the week before they were interview[ed]... After checking with the restaurants where the interviewees had eaten, it became clear the restaurants had used bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make their salads. The CDC said, the patients didn't report whole heads or hearts of romaine."

So that bagged romaine-containing salad in your fridge, even if you've already eaten out of it and not gotten sick? Toss it. Don't even look at. Just throw it away.