Public warned of tainted lettuce

E. coli bacteria found in produce could lead to gastroenteritis

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a health warning yesterday against eating romaine lettuce due to E. coli fears.

In a health advisory channeled through the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., CDC warned consumers, restaurants, and retailers of an ongoing widespread, multi-state outbreak of gastroenteritis caused by romaine lettuce exposed to E. coli bacteria that can cause severe gastroenteritis.

Based on the information collected by CDC, the supply of romaine lettuce from Yume, Arizona could be contaminated with E. coli.

Last week, CDC reported 35 illnesses in 11 states but no reports of deaths.

This comes in the wake of a public warning last Friday from the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s Public Health/Hospital Emergency Preparedness Program and Epidemiology Laboratory Capacity Programs about an ongoing spread of norovirus-like gastroenteritis or stomach flu in the region, a condition that stems from the inflammation of the stomach and intestines which usually result from bacterial toxins. The warning was released after cases of diarrhea and vomiting were reported in the CNMI in past weeks.

CHCC public information officer Samantha Birmingham-Babauta said they are closely monitoring the situation.

“Our guidance was based off the CDC and USDA as we do receive U.S. produce. But as far as our monitoring goes, we have not been impacted,” she added.

CDC advises consumers not to buy or consume romaine lettuce that comes from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. They further warned that lettuce product often do not mention their source.

“Unless the source of the product is known, consumers with store-bought romaine lettuce that have been shipped from the United States or are U.S brands should not be eaten and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.”

Consumers are encouraged to throw away any romaine lettuce if uncertain where it was grown or originated. Wash and sanitize drawers or shelves in refrigerators where romaine lettuce was stored.

The same advice was given to restaurants and retailers not to serve or sell whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona.

The public is advised to stay alert in the event contaminated romaine lettuce is sold in stores or served in restaurants in the CNMI. Please inform the Bureau of Environmental Health at (670) 664-4870/72/73 of such instances or by email to Bureau of Environmental Health director John Tagabuel at

Symptoms of E. coli bacteria infection include getting sick with gastroenteritis 2-8 days (average of 3-4 days) after swallowing the germ, diarrhea that can be bloody, severe stomach cramps and vomiting. Most people recover within one week and some infections are very mild but others are severe or even life-threatening.

If symptoms of an E. coli infection is apparent, talk to your healthcare provider, write down what you ate in the week before you started to get sick and assist public health investigators by answering questions about your illness.

To prevent E. coli infection, wash hands after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals, don’t prepare food or drink for others when you are sick, don’t cross-contaminate food preparation areas, thoroughly wash counters, cutting boards and utensils after they touch raw meat and finally, wash fruits and vegetables before eating unless the package says the contents have been washed.

To report a notifiable disease or possible E.coli infection, notify the territorial epidemiologist Dr. Paul White in the Public Health and Hospital Emergency Preparedness and Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Program by email at or call the CHCC at (670) 234-8950.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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