Why You Should Throw Out – Not Wash – Your Romaine Lettuce

If you haven’t heard by now, there has been a recent E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce, which has been recalled from numerous stores. However, the previous warning was only limited to chopped forms of romaine — (any type of salads or salad mixes that used romaine) — so your whole heads of romaine were safe.

However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently expanded its warning to cover all types of romaine lettuce—which includes whole heads and hearts of romaine grown in the Yuma, Arizona, growing area.

This new warning comes after eight new cases of acute gastroenteritis were reported at a correctional facility in Nome, Alaska. The new cases seem to be connected to the current outbreak.

The current outbreak has affected 53 people in 16 different states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania (which had the most infected people), Virginia and Washington. The cause of the outbreak remains unclear.

“It can then get into a field of produce crop from contaminated water or it can be tracked in by animals and it can be spread in a processing line,” says Scott Horsfall with the California leafy green marketing agreement. “We verify through government on-site safety audits that people are following a set of food safety practices designed to minimize any risk.”

“Because this outbreak involves a strain of E. coli bacteria (O157:H7) that can lead to serious illness including kidney failure, state officials are asking Alaskans to follow CDC recommendations and avoid any romaine lettuce products that could be contaminated,” an Alaska news release stated.

The CDC advises consumers to play it safe and avoid eating or buying any type of romaine lettuce (whole heads, chopped, mixes, etc.), especially if you’re not sure where it was grown— and not many product labels verify their growing regions.

And if you’re wondering if washing the lettuce will help, don’t go there. It’s better to play it safe and just not buy or eat it at all. Even if you scrub it up and down, it just isn’t worth it.

“This bacteria can actually get inside the lettuce leaf,” said Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch. “Washing it doesn’t make it safe.”

There are lots of other greens that taste great and work in place of romaine: iceberg, Bibb, and green or red leaf lettuce, to name just a few. Perhaps use these in place of your romaine right now. E. coli isn’t something you want to mess with.

Signs of E. coli include diarrhea that can be bloody, severe stomach cramps, and vomiting. If you’ve eaten romaine and then experience symptoms like these, report your illness to the health department and call your local healthcare provider.

While most symptoms go away after about a week, other people experience a longer, more severe version of the disease.

In general, to prevent E. coli, always be sure to wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or being in contact with animals. Always cook meats through so any potential harmful germs will be killed off, and wash the counters, cutting boards, and utensils you use after cutting raw meat thoroughly.

Also pay attention to how carefully you wash your fruits and veggies. Just not romaine, of course.

Do you have any romaine in your house right now? Be sure to throw it away. What do you think of this recent outbreak?