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Shoppers avoiding romaine lettuce amid E. coli outbreak

Jacksonville shoppers aren't taking any chances

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At least 53 people have fallen ill, including 31 hospitalizations and five cases of kidney failure, amid a multi-state outbreak of E. coli likely linked to romaine lettuce produced in Yuma, Arizona.

But even though Florida is not among the states with reported illnesses, some shoppers in the Jacksonville area plan to steer clear of the produce until they're absolutely certain it's safe to eat.

From mangoes to kale, it's easy to find almost anything at the Jacksonville Farmers Market on Beaver Street. Anything except for romaine lettuce, which has grown scarce since the outbreak began.

"You're scared to eat anything, just like the reports on the restaurants. It's ridiculous," said Betty Davis.

Fortunately for Davis, romaine lettuce doesn't typically top her shopping list. But just the thought of contaminated food sitting on store shelves was enough to make her uneasy.

"What is going wrong with this country?" she wondered aloud.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports of illness linked to the outbreak began March 13, with 95 percent of those infected acknowledging they ate romaine lettuce sometime during the week before they got sick.

The outbreak was originally thought to be connected to chopped romaine lettuce because that's what the restaurants served. Now, however, it includes whole-head lettuce after several people at an Alaskan correctional facility were infected.

Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington are among the states where cases have been reported so far.

The FDA has yet to identify a specific grower, supplier, distributor or brand involved.

Because of that, some shoppers and stores aren't taking any chances. One Tropical Smoothie location in Jacksonville, for instance, has banned romaine lettuce for at least another week.

On the other hand, the Publix in Riverside continues to carry romaine lettuce. A store manager said that's because the store's distributor is not tied to the contamination.

The Food and Drug Administration has the following tips for consumers:

  • Check with your grocer or restaurant to learn where their romaine lettuce comes from;
  • Do not consume any romaine lettuce that originated in Yuma, Arizona
  • If you can't confirm the source of the romaine lettuce, don't buy or eat it
  • If you've already bought romaine lettuce, but don't know the source, throw it away

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