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Western Pa. grocers pull romaine from shelves amid E. coli scare

Ben Schmitt
| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, 3:57 p.m.
A produce worker stocks shelves near romaine lettuce (top shelf, right) at a Whole Foods supermarket in Washington, DC on November 20, 2018 - US health officials warned consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce and to throw away any they might have in their homes, citing an outbreak of E. coli poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the warning against all Romaine lettuce just two days before the Thanksgiving holiday, when American families gather and feast together. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
A produce worker stocks shelves near romaine lettuce (top shelf, right) at a Whole Foods supermarket in Washington, DC on November 20, 2018 - US health officials warned consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce and to throw away any they might have in their homes, citing an outbreak of E. coli poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the warning against all Romaine lettuce just two days before the Thanksgiving holiday, when American families gather and feast together. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images
FILE - This Jan. 24, 2012, file photo shows a Caesar salad with romaine lettuce. Food regulators are urging Americans not to eat any romaine lettuce because of a new food poisoning outbreak. The FDA says it’s investigating an E. coli outbreak that has sickened over two dozen people in several states. The FDA says it’s working with officials in Canada, where officials are also warning against romaine lettuce. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead, File)
FILE - This Jan. 24, 2012, file photo shows a Caesar salad with romaine lettuce. Food regulators are urging Americans not to eat any romaine lettuce because of a new food poisoning outbreak. The FDA says it’s investigating an E. coli outbreak that has sickened over two dozen people in several states. The FDA says it’s working with officials in Canada, where officials are also warning against romaine lettuce. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead, File)
(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 2, 2018, a man shops for vegetables beside Romaine lettuce at a supermarket in Los Angeles.. - US health officials warned consumers on November 20, 2018, not to eat any romaine lettuce and to throw away any they might have in their homes, citing an outbreak of E. coli poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the warning against all Romaine lettuce just two days before the Thanksgiving holiday, when American families gather and feast together. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 2, 2018, a man shops for vegetables beside Romaine lettuce at a supermarket in Los Angeles.. - US health officials warned consumers on November 20, 2018, not to eat any romaine lettuce and to throw away any they might have in their homes, citing an outbreak of E. coli poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the warning against all Romaine lettuce just two days before the Thanksgiving holiday, when American families gather and feast together. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Grocery stores in Western Pennsylvania removed romaine lettuce from shelves Tuesday following a new E. Coli outbreak believed to be caused by tainted lettuce in the U.S. and Canada.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says the agency didn’t have enough information to request suppliers issue a recall, but he said supermarkets and restaurants should withdraw romaine products until the contamination can be identified. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said consumers should not eat any romaine lettuce.

Giant Eagle and Shop ‘n Save took action.

“At Giant Eagle, customer food safety is a priority and the company will be following the recommendations set by the CDC and will pull all romaine lettuce product from its shelves on Tuesday,” spokesman Dick Roberts said in an email.

Shop ‘n Save threw out its romaine lettuce.

” Effective immediately, SHOP ‘n SAVE is pulling all romaine lettuce from shelves,” the company said in an emailed statement. “Customers who have purchased this product should throw it away immediately. We are fully committed to the health and safety of our customers, and will continue to work hard to provide only the highest quality products in our stores.”

A woman answering the phone at Kuhn’s, a local grocery chain, said nobody was available to comment Tuesday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was working with officials in Canada on the outbreak, which has sickened 32 people in 11 states in the U.S. and 18 people in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health said Tuesday no E. coli cases have been linked, so far, to romaine in the state.

The strain identified is different than the one linked to romaine earlier this year , but it appears similar to one linked to leafy greens last year.

“The fact that romaine lettuce is again the subject of an E.coli outbreak highlights the fact that the safety of the food supply is continually at risk,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

He said it will be important to understand why the current outbreak occurred and eliminate the source of contamination.

“Also, that this strain genetically matches an earlier outbreak strain illustrates how difficult it is to find the source of contamination as it could be that the source from the earlier outbreak was never rectified,” Adalja said.

No deaths have been reported, but 13 of the people who became sick in the U.S. were hospitalized. The last reported illness was on Oct. 31.

Tracing the source of contaminated lettuce can be difficult because it’s often repackaged by middlemen, said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That can mean the entire industry becomes implicated in outbreaks, even if not all products are contaminated.

Washing lettuce won’t ensure that contaminated lettuce is safe, Sorscher said.

Most E. coli bacteria are benign but some can cause illness, with symptoms including severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. The Associated Press contributed to this report. You can contact Ben at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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