If you are a vegetarian (and a food safety professional) like me, romaine lettuce and other salad items are in your refrigerator all the time. I stayed back from eating my fav lettuce over romaine outbreak in 2017 (November 2017 to January 2018) and earlier this year in 2018 (April to June). One would think in the midst of more than one romaine lettuce E Coli outbreak lawsuit, things would have gotten better?
After more than 200 illnesses and 5 deaths from the outbreak just this Spring and identifying the problem, we are safe now? I mean, at least farmers and harvesters are doing the right thing for food safety and QA, testing their crops, right? Think again!
There is another outbreak of E Coli O157:H7 linked to romaine lettuce. So far, 32 people are sick in 11 states. In addition, 18 people are sick in Canada. Illnesses started October 8, 2018 and ongoing.
I don’t know about you, but I am concerned about what to use in my salads.
What brands of romaine lettuce are contaminated?
The FDA has confirmed that they are conducting a trace-back investigation to determine the source of the romaine lettuce that made the confirmed cases sick. FDA and many states are conducting lab analysis of romaine lettuce samples. Advisory alert from FDA and CDC ask that consumers do not eat any romaine lettuce because no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified. Thanks a lot for this scare!
I just brought romaine from my local grocery store, is it safe to eat?
Simple answer – No. And that is all romaine products – whether whole heads, in a package, mixed into a salad mix, or that Caesar salad bought from a restaurant. Stay away from that crispy green leafy stuff for now.
Are you sure romaine is to blame?
CDC and FDA report that epidemiologic evidence from the US and Canadian agencies indicates that romaine lettuce is a likely source of the outbreak.
How can I tell if my romaine lettuce is contaminated?
There is no way for you to know unless you are a scientist in a laboratory. Romaine contaminated with E Coli will look, taste, smell, and look the same as Romaine that is safe. My words for you: Throw it out.
How can this happen?
The last outbreak was linked to irrigation concerns. This one may have the same issue. We just don’t know at this time. Root vegetables and leafy vegetables are the most susceptible to contamination from the application of manure to the soil. The fecal matter (loaded with pathogens) from cattle, pigs, deer, dogs, and goats can be exposed to produce item that is grown in soil.
Lettuce can also be contaminated by bacteria during and after harvest from handling, storing and transporting the produce. Contamination in lettuce is also possible at the grocery store, in the refrigerator, or from counters and cutting boards through cross-contamination with harmful bacteria from raw meat, poultry or seafood.
E coli can cause numerous illnesses because fruit and vegetables are shipped thousands of miles and are rarely cooked to a temperature that would kill E. coli.
Are the outbreaks all related?
CDC has confirmed that “Ill people in this outbreak were infected with E. coli bacteria with the same DNA fingerprint as the E. coli strain isolated from ill people in a 2017 outbreak linked to leafy greens in the US and to romaine lettuce in Canada. The current outbreak is not related to a recent multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce.”
How do I know if I have E coli?
Symptoms show within 2 to 10 days after eating an E coli contaminated product. Signs of the infection: vomiting, nausea, watery (sometimes bloody) diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in some cases, fever. Urgent medical attention is recommended at any sign of the infection, especially if you have eaten romaine recently or are at high risk for foodborne illness.
E.coli strain known as STEC E. coli O157:H7 (referred to as O157:H7), is particularly virulent because of the toxin that is shed by the bacteria. The toxins can result in life-threatening hemolytic-uremic syndrome (known as HUS). This strain is potentially deadly to the elderly, young infants and children, and those with compromised immune systems.
Should I be concerned about HUS?
Yes. HUS is a potentially life-threatening complication affecting the kidneys because of a STEC E coli infection. About 5 to 10% of those diagnosed with STEC E coli end up developing HUS. People with HUS should be hospitalized; otherwise, they could experience kidney failure and other serious health problems. In some cases, long-term damage to the kidneys and other organs can result in persistent or recurrent health concerns that can have a drastic effect on a patient for the remainder of their life.
As with E coli infections, one should seek immediate medical attention at the first sign of any of these symptoms. Early medical intervention can help reduce the risk of more severe illness and long-term complications.
So, if you were planning to serve healthy salads for your Thanksgiving gathering, you will need to make a run to your grocery store and fight for that last head of lettuce or the ready mixed bags – just make sure to not pick any romaine and please be civil and no fights…after all, we are in giving thanks mode.