Local food safety lawyer offers advice on romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak

SEATTLE -- Fifty-one people have gotten E. coli after eating romaine lettuce, including one case in Washington.

Based on new information, the CDC is expanding its warning to consumers to cover all types of romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

This warning now includes whole heads and hearts of romaine lettuce, in addition to chopped romaine and salads and salad mixes containing romaine.

The CDC says do not buy or eat romaine lettuce at a grocery store or restaurant unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma growing region.

This E. coli outbreak has sent 31 people to the hospital and this strain is especially severe because it has a risk of causing kidney failure.

Doctors say E. coli symptoms begin about 10 days after eating a contaminated product.

"Fresh fruits and vegetables will pose the highest risk along with any food that you’re not going to heat,” said Bruce Clark, a food safety attorney.

Clark says his law firm has gotten calls from many people who’ve claimed they’ve gotten sick from this outbreak.

He says E. coli symptoms will feel like the worst kind of sickness you’ve had, including severe stomach cramps, bloody stools and diarrhea.

Clark says for the most part the bags of lettuce sold in grocery stores that are triple washed are generally safe to eat, but washing fruits and veggies with water is not going to help get rid of the E. coli.

E. coli hooks onto a produce like lettuce, especially romaine, that is usually cut up for salads or other food.

“If it’s a chopped product like romaine, the bacteria can get in the ends of the cut lettuce and thrive there,” said Clark.

This outbreak started in the Yuma growing region. In the winter, a lot of California lettuce-growing operations get shifted to Yuma until the spring and summer months when production transitions back to California.

To be on the safe side, Clark says, avoid eating salads or anything that contain romaine lettuce. He says he expects the number of people affected will continue to grow in the coming weeks.