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Cross romaine lettuce off your list after CDC issues another contamination warning

Romaine lettuce grows in May 2017 near Soledad, Calif. (Michael Fiala/Reuters)
Romaine lettuce grows in May 2017 near Soledad, Calif. (Michael Fiala/Reuters)

Romaine lettuce is unsafe to eat right now in any form, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday in a broad alert in response to a new outbreak of illnesses caused by a particularly dangerous type of E. coli contamination.

The CDC told consumers to throw away any romaine lettuce they already have purchased. Restaurants should not serve it, stores should not sell it, and people should not buy it, no matter where or when the lettuce was grown. It doesn’t matter if it is chopped, whole head or part of a mix. All romaine should be avoided.

Representatives for Hy-Vee and Fareway stores in Iowa said they removed romaine products Tuesday when the alert was issued.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have pulled all romaine lettuce as well as any product containing romaine lettuce from our 248 stores today. We are discarding all products that could be potentially impacted by today’s news from the CDC,” a Hy-Vee spokeswoman said. “At this time, we do not know when these products will be available to consumers again.”

The CDC alert was issued as shoppers filled grocery stores in preparation for making Thanksgiving dinner. Representatives for Fareway and New Pioneer Food Coop said the stores do not expect the warning to have much impact on Thanksgiving plans.

“We have so many lettuce options — we have a lot of local products,” said New Pioneer Marketing Manager Jen Agerer. “It’s another reason to buy local, because how it’s manufactured, how it’s handled is really traceable.”

The CDC reported that 32 people in 11 states — but none in Iowa — have become sick from eating contaminated romaine.

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Of those, 13 have been hospitalized, with one patient suffering from a form of kidney failure. No deaths were reported.

The origin of the outbreak is unknown and remains under investigation. The CDC did not limit the warning to romaine from any particular agricultural area.

A common strain of E.coli was detected in six of the sickened people and appears to match the strain found in an outbreak of illnesses from contaminated leafy greens late last year that affected people in the United States and Canada. That outbreak was declared over in January.

Five people died in the most recent major outbreak from contaminated romaine, which lasted from March to June of this year and led to 210 cases in 36 states. That outbreak was traced to the Yuma, Ariz., growing region, but investigators never conclusively determined the source.

Until the 1990s, most E. coli cases in humans came from eating contaminated hamburger. More recently, after reforms in the livestock industry, the outbreaks have been most associated with leafy greens.

Michaela Ramm of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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