Consumer Reports and the Centers of Disease Control reported in the past seven weeks that 58 people have become ill, with five hospitalized and two who died, from E. coli bacteria likely from eating raw romaine lettuce. The outbreaks were first reported in Canada, where officials have identified the culprit more specifically as romaine lettuce.
The CDC says the likely source of the US outbreak appears to be leafy greens but it is not recommending Americans avoid any particular food at this time.
Experts in food safety and public health say the bacterial strain at the epicenter of both the US and Canadian outbreaks - E. coli O157:H7 - is one of the most virulent to contaminate the food supply.
Over the past seven weeks, 59 people in the USA and Canada have become ill from a risky strain of E. coli, likely from eating romaine lettuce. The five hospitalized are in the United States with the one death in the USA and one in Canada.
Maryland and New Jersey now join California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, which all previously reported cases of illness.
The cases in the United States are the same strain as the cases in Canada, and some of them have the same genetic fingerprint.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency - which is similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - tested samples of romaine lettuce as part of the outbreak investigation.
Based on that information, officials say that ill persons in this outbreak are not more likely than healthy people to have eaten romaine lettuce. It also warns not to purchase packaged, loose or mixed salads that may have romaine lettuce. This strain of E. coli can not be neutralized by washing, only by cooking, so if you have any, grill it till it's crispy or toss it.
But U.S. health authorities have said it's too early to blame leafy greens as the probe continues.
CDC and FDA will continue to update the public as more information on the outbreak source is uncovered. WGS data alone are not sufficient to prove a link; health officials rely on other sources of data, such as interviews from ill people, to support the WGS link.
"There is not enough epidemiologic evidence at this time to indicate a specific source of the illnesses in the United States", Brittany Behm, a CDC representative, said. People usually get sick from E. coli O157:H7 three to four days after eating food contaminated with the germ.
To protect against E. coli infection, health officials say people should thoroughly wash their hands, as well as counters, cutting boards and utensils.
Most people develop diarrhea (often bloody) and stomach cramps. Officials determined that the E. coli bacteria found in both countries were genetically "related".