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Consumer Reports urges Americans to avoid romaine lettuce amid E.coli concerns

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Dozens of people in the U.S. and Canada started getting sick from E.coli back in November.

The Public Health Agency of Canada suspects romaine lettuce as the likely source, and in an update on it's website urges consumers in five impacted provinces to consider consumer other types of lettuce instead of romaine.

American health officials however, say while the E.coli cases appear to be similar, it's too early to tell you to avoid a particular food. U. S. investigators are still confirming a direct link with the Canadian E.coli cases.

Health experts at Consumer Reports disagree, and say the early link to romaine is enough to sound an alert.

The strain of E.coli everyone's concerned about is E.coli 0157. It produces a toxin that can cause serious illness, kidney failure and even death.

The Centers for Disease Control reports outbreaks in 13 states in this country, including 1 in the Washington.

A spokesperson for the Washington State Health Department indicates the sickened patient in our state is in the Spokane area.

Combined with the Canadian cases a total of 58 people got sick. 2 people died, one in each country.

But while state and federal health officials say the E.coli strain involved appears to be similar to that in the Canadian cases, the CDC says it's too early to officially blame romaine lettuce for the outbreaks in the United States.

In a written statement urging consumers to "Avoid Romaine Lettuce for Now" Consumer Reports said:

"Even though we can't say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E.coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is almost always consumed raw."

"There's gotta be a common denominator between all these people," said Bill Marler, a nationally recognized food safety attorney based in Seattle.

Given what's known so far, Marler believes Consumer Reports made the right call.

"Yes, some romaine is going to be thrown out needlessly. Some retailers may take a hit financially. But it's better that they do that now, than have another person die or more people get kidney failure," Marler said.

The people most at risk from E. coli infections are young children, older adults and people with weak immune systems.

Investigators in this country say they're still interviewing patients and testing genetic samples of the bacteria involved and will release more information as soon as it's available.

In Canada, meanwhile published reports indicate some grocers have taken romaine off their shelves.

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