As you prepare to sit down with family and friends for Thanksgiving dinners, Americans are being warned to stay away from all romaine lettuce over new health concerns.
The CDC says the leafy vegetable is connected to an E. Coli outbreak that’s made at least 32 people sick in 11 states. Thirteen people have been hospitalized. Anna Werner is at a New York supermarket, where the lettuce has been removed.
Workers at New York’s Mercedes House Market wasted no time pulling all the romaine lettuce off store shelves Tuesday and putting it into a refrigerator so customers could not buy it.
“It was very strange for it to be this type of an outbreak of this size right around Thanksgiving,” said Alap Vora, Mercedes House Market owner. “It’s disappointing but hopefully, we’re able to get it back on the shelves soon.”
The CDC says 32 people have gotten sick from a potentially lethal strain of E. Coli bacteria since October, apparently from eating romaine lettuce.
Until the source of the tainted lettuce is tracked down, consumers should avoid all forms of romaine, says CDC Epidemiologist Laura Gieraltowski.
“Don’t buy any romaine lettuce,” said Gieraltowski. “And that includes salad mixes that could contain romaine lettuce, or whole heads or chopped romaine.”
Related illnesses have now been reported in California, the midwest, and northeast. Eighteen cases have also cropped up in Canada.
Health officials say this recent outbreak is not related to one this past April, which killed five people and was traced to romaine grown in Yuma, Arizona. Instead, the bacteria appears similar to the E. Coli strain that caused another outbreak last year.
Food safety expert Sandra Eskin worries there may be a systemic problem with the way romaine lettuce is grown or harvested.
“Is it coming from the soil? Is it the water that is used to irrigate? There are any number of potential sources for contamination,” said Eskin.
Eskin says thoroughly washing the lettuce is not really an option because the bacteria could be inside the leaf, not just on the surface. If you have any romaine lettuce in your house, the CDC says you need to throw it out now, and then disinfect your refrigerator.