Federal public health officials say there’s not enough proof to pinpoint romaine lettuce as the source of a recent outbreak of E. coli-related illnesses that’s infected 17 people in the U.S., including one in western Illinois, and caused one death in California.

Even so, Consumer Reports magazine has taken the unusual step of advising against eating romaine lettuce until more is known about the potential risk. Bolstering the magazine’s argument is the fact that the Canadian government recently linked 41 cases of E. coli illness in its eastern provinces to romaine lettuce. Canada subsequently advised people in that part of the country to consider other leafy greens.

The type of E. coli in those cases is genetically similar to what’s making people sick in the U.S., making it more likely — though not guaranteed — that they share a common source, according to Dr. Ian Williams of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We strive to be fast and right. … We wish we knew more and we’re working hard to get there. But we don’t have enough evidence yet,” said Wiliams, chief of the CDC’s Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch.

The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration — the agencies that oversee investigations of foodborne illness outbreaks and food recalls — are continuing to investigate the cause of the outbreak, in partnership with local public health agencies, Williams said.

They’re also in communication with Canada, which found sufficient evidence to link the outbreak to romaine lettuce but hasn’t yet narrowed it to a specific farm, store or brand, he said.

Better to avoid romaine lettuce for now, said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the nonprofit policy arm of Consumer Reports.

“(The CDC and FDA are) being very conservative and cautious about this, but for consumers it’s a very simple thing to do to buy another kind of leafy green until more is known about the risk,” Halloran said.

It’s unusual for Consumer Reports to issue a food warning when the CDC and FDA haven’t issued a recall, Halloran said. But given the size of the outbreak and the severity of the risk, which is worse for elderly people and children, the magazine felt it was the right decision, she said.

“This one really got...read more at Chicago Tribune