The CDC’s warning to not eat any romaine lettuce purchased in stores or ordered at restaurants rippled across the nation just days before Thanksgiving, leading to many salads being altered and iceberg lettuce lovers announcing, “I told you so!”
Why the mass alert from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of Prevention? Because of an outbreak of E. coli cases linked romaine lettuce. The complication was that, at the time, nobody knew exactly where that lettuce was coming from — so all romaine became suspect.
43 people in 12 states got sick from E. coli bacteria linked to the lettuce, as well as 22 people in Canada, CNN reported.
The romaine warning also applied to some salad mixes, spring mix, and Ceaser salads, drastically altering the salad menus for some restaurants and upsetting customers.
Lest romaine be sworn off forever, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigated the outbreak over the Thanksgiving holiday and were able to track the infected romaine to one region of the country.
"Our investigation at this point suggests that romaine lettuce associated with the outbreak comes from areas of California that grow romaine lettuce over the summer months, and that the outbreak appears to be related to 'end of season' romaine lettuce harvested from these areas,” explained FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. “The involved areas include the Central Coast growing regions of central and northern California."
As a result, the FDA released an official statement, saying that no romaine infected with the same strain of E. coli was found outside that region. Thus, the nationwide warning to avoid all romaine should be modified.
But how can consumers know where a particular batch of romaine comes from? That’s the tricky part.
"Based on discussions with major producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date," Gottlieb assured.
The key is whether or not consumers can always find labels that clearly state the lettuce’s origin.
"If consumers, retailers and food service facilities are unable to identify that romaine lettuce products are not affected — which means determining that the products were grown outside the California regions that appear to be implicated in the current outbreak investigation — we urge that these products not be purchased, or if purchased, be discarded or returned to the place of purchase," Gottlieb concluded.
The outbreak is still under investigation. Grilled romaine, anyone?
What are the symptoms of E. coli?
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include “diarrhea, which may range from mild and watery to severe and bloody; abdominal cramping, pain or tenderness; and nausea and vomiting, in some people.”
The Mayo Clinic says symptoms typically present themselves three or four days after exposure to E. coli bacteria, but CDC noted that the infection range can be from two to eight days.
The sickness caused by E. coli infections can be severe enough to send somebody to the hospital. No deaths have been reported for this outbreak. Five people died after at least 190 people were infected from an outbreak linked to romaine lettuce earlier this year, Business Insider reported.
What should you do if you think you’re infected?
Talk to your doctor and let them know what you were eating before your sickness. If you are diagnosed with an E. coli infection, report it to the CDC so they can track the outbreak and find the exact source of the problem.