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E. coli outbreak hits just in time for Thanksgiving

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Thinking of serving Caesar salad at your Thanksgiving table? You might want to rethink your menu - or at least go for a different type of green. For the second time this year, a widespread E. coli outbreak has led grocers across the country to pull romaine from the shelves.

The Star Tribune reports that 32 confirmed cases have arisen in 11 states. Though none are in Minnesota (yet), it's important to err on the side of safety when it comes to this potentially life-threatening illness - especially amongst those most vulnerable. Pregnant women, children and the elderly should steer well clear of potential contaminants. In an abundance of caution, the CDC is warning consumers to avoid romaine entirely.

What is E. coli?

Escherichia coli is a bacteria that lives in the gastrointestinal tract. Certain strains, however, produce a toxin that triggers bloody diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fever. The infection can cause severe dehydration and may prove fatal.

These strains are typically acquired through contaminated food or water. Leafy greens are especially vulnerable to contamination, and while thorough washing can reduce your chances of an infection, that's not a surefire way to avoid it (especially when there's been a proven outbreak).

Didn't this just happen?

If this news feels like déjà vu, that's because it is. Last spring, another deadly outbreak of E. coli had consumers across the country tossing their romaine (into the trash, that is - not into a salad). The FDA ultimately determined that the likely source of the outbreak was contaminated water canals affecting growers and processors in the Yuma area of Arizona. By the time romaine was back on the shelves, 210 people in 36 states had contracted the infection, and five cases were fatal.

The bottom line: Skip the romaine this year. You'll be thankful that you didn't end up spending the long holiday weekend in the hospital.

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