The United States has been experiencing an E. coli outbreak affecting 11 states with 35 reported cases so far. Twenty-two hospitalizations have occurred as a result of the outbreak, though luckily no deaths have been reported.
On April 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement advising consumers check the origin of their romaine lettuce before purchasing. Since the outbreak was potentially linked to lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, the CDC says only lettuce from these regions should be avoided. The CDC also recommends that if consumers have already purchased bagged or chopped lettuce, it should be thrown away immediately.
Consumer Reports’ advice goes even further than the CDC’s — they recommend consumers avoid buying and eating romaine lettuce entirely, at least until the outbreak is over.
“Consumer Reports’ experts believe that it could be difficult for consumers to determine where the romaine they purchase is from, which is why they believe it’s best to avoid the lettuce altogether,” Consumer Reports said in a recent post.
They also point out that there “are still several unknowns about this outbreak, and that no type of romaine has been ruled definitively safe by government officials.”
Laura Gieraltowski, Ph.D., M.P.H., who leads the Foodborne Outbreak Response Team at the CDC, predicts there will be more reports of illness in the days and weeks ahead. Illnesses that began on or after March 27 may not have been counted yet.
Lettuce from restaurants is suspected to be affected, as well as bagged and pre-chopped lettuce from stores. Some reported illnesses occurred after consumers ate lettuce from casual restaurants. The Daily Meal has reached out to Chipotle and Just Salad to inquire whether they will continue to use and serve romaine lettuce in their meals.
“We have continued to serve romaine lettuce, but we do not use the pre-cut, bagged romaine that is at the center of this investigation,” Chris Arnold, representative for Chipotle, told The Daily Meal. “Neither Chipotle nor our produce suppliers have been contacted regarding any connection to this issue.”
Just Salad had similar assurances. “Just Salad will continue to serve romaine lettuce, as our suppliers are not affected by the E.coli outbreak,” Janani Lee, Just Salad Supply Chain Analyst, told The Daily Meal. “Our romaine is safe to consume.”
The Daily Meal will update this story upon receiving further information.
“We are making this decision out of an abundance of caution,” said James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports. “This warning is particularly important for vulnerable people like the elderly, pregnant women, and young children.”
This isn’t the first time romaine lettuce has been tied to an E. coli outbreak — at this rate, the crunchy vegetable could become one of the world’s biggest food poisoning scares.