HOUSTON – Americans should not eat romaine lettuce and restaurants and retailers should not serve or sell it until further notice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Tuesday.
The alert follows a dangerous outbreak of E. coli contamination that has sickened 32 people in 11 states since October, the CDC said. Canada's health agency reported 18 people sickened by the outbreak.
"They are really methodical, it takes a lot to investigate these cases," Dr. Daniel Musher said.
HEB, Target, Randalls, Whole Foods and Kroger responded to KPRC requests for comment, and all said their stores would pull romaine off the shelves.
KPRC checked the store shelves several hours after the CDC alert. Romaine was missing from some Houston HEB and Whole Foods stores. But the lettuce remained on the shelves at a few Randalls, Target, Kroger and other stores in Houston that were checked at random.
Every store said customers who bought romaine can return it for a full refund.
The CDC warning against an entire food type is unusual, but the agency insisted it was necessary because the source of the outbreak has not been identified and Thanksgiving is around the corner.
Musher is a professor of medicine at Baylor and an infectious disease expert at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Houston.
The CDC is warning against eating romaine lettuce from anywhere because it has not yet identified the source of the outbreak. It took the agency more than three months to find the source of another outbreak earlier this year that sickened more than 200 people and killed five.
"Oh you'll know [when you have it]," Musher said. "You'll have terrible diarrhea, and it will probably be bloody diarrhea, you'll be real sick."
The sickness usually shows up three to four days after eating the contaminated lettuce, and typically goes away within a week.
About a third of the current E. coli cases come from California, where most of America's lettuce is grown.
Michigan reported seven cases, and other states including New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey reported between one and three cases.
No cases have been reported in Texas so far. If you think you have E. coli, contact your doctor.