On April 10th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began investigating an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157: H7 infections. These infections were eventually linked to Romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. Since that time, the outbreak has spread to at least 19 states, including Ohio, with a reported 84 illnesses. Thankfully there have been no deaths related to this infection; however, there have been several hospitalizations. This outbreak has affected all ages, including younger, healthier people.
What is E.Coli and why should I be concerned?
E. Coli is everywhere—in our intestines, foods, animals, and the environment, and most of the time it doesn’t cause illness. The strain related to this romaine lettuce is far more dangerous, however. Bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and severe abdominal cramps occur 1 to 10 days after consuming a food contaminated with this particular bacteria. What is most concerning is that while a typical food poisoning episode doesn’t put younger people in the hospital, this specific strain has led to severe illnesses including a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome in about 5-10% of cases.
How can I tell if the romaine lettuce I purchased was grown in Yuma?
The problem is that you can’t tell. Most bagged greens do not list the place where the lettuce was grown. Many of the cases are related to restaurants, so you would have even less information about where the lettuce came from. No specific brand or grower of lettuce has been found to be the source of the contamination.
Do I have to throw away all my romaine lettuce?
Initially, the outbreak was thought to be isolated to bagged salad greens, but the CDC currently recommends that consumers throw out ALL romaine lettuce, including heads and hearts of romaine. Be sure to check your bags of salad mixes as well—some contain romaine, so check the label carefully. I had to throw out a chopped salad mix that included romaine this week. It doesn’t take much to make you sick, so even if you think there’s just a small amount in the mix, it’s better to be safe that sorry.
When can I start eating it again?
A lot of grocery stores and restaurant suppliers have pulled romaine lettuce from the shelves. Thankfully, lettuce has a short shelf life so that it will be out of the food supply soon. Production has returned to the Salinas Valley in California, and out of Arizona. However, until the CDC declares the outbreak to be over, it’s best to steer clear.