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How Grocery Stores Are Responding to the Romaine Lettuce E. coli Outbreak

How Grocery Stores Are Responding to the Romaine Lettuce E. coli Outbreak



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Here's how major chains are protecting consumers as the rates of illness increase.

As the nationwide E. coli outbreak linked to contaminated romaine lettuce continues to spread, major grocery stores across the country are responding to the Center for Disease Control warnings with swift action.

On April 13, the CDC first issued guidance urging consumers to avoid chopped romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona region after a string of hospitalizations, and on April 20, expanded that guidance to include whole leaf romaine from Yuma.

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Still, reports of infection continue. As of the latest CDC update, issued on May 2, 121 people in 25 states have been affected—including one death and 52 hospitalizations. The CDC advises consumers to “not eat or buy romaine lettuce unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region” and urges retailers and restaurants to cease serving any type of romaine from Yuma as well.

Here’s how five major grocery chains across the country have responded to the news.

Albertsons Companies

In response to the April 13 warning, Albertsons-owned stores removed chopped romaine lettuce products grown in Yuma and the company changed its supplier source for all romaine lettuce and products containing it, per a company spokesperson. In response to the expanded warning on April 20, stores also removed products with full-leaf romaine sourced from Yuma.

“Romaine lettuce currently for sale in our stores is not from the Yuma region,” the spokesperson told Cooking Light via email. Albertsons stores include Jewel Osco, Safeway, Vons, Randalls, Pavilions, and other regional chains. (See full list of stores here.)

The Kroger Co.

“We pulled romaine lettuce potentially originating from Yuma,” Kristal Howard, head of corporate communications and media relations at The Kroger Co., told Cooking Light via email. “The products being sold in our stores are no longer from the Yuma region and we are communicating this message to our customers primarily through in-store signage.” Kroger stores include King Soopers, Ralphs, City Market, Harris Teeter, Food 4 Less, Owen’s Market and other regional chains. (See full list here.)

Trader Joe’s

According to a TJ’s customer service rep, all the romaine carried in stores today—and since April 14, the day after the CDC’s first warning—is not being sourced from Yuma.

“We only have California-grown romaine in our stores at this point,” the rep told Cooking Light via email. “While we are not aware of any confirmed illnesses related to our romaine, and no Trader Joe's products have been implicated in the matter, we took the precautionary step of promptly removing any product from sale upon notification from the CDC of the potential to be affected.”

ALDI

Per ALDI: “We’ve confirmed that all ALDI products with romaine lettuce that are currently for sale are not from the Yuma region and are therefore not part of the current CDC advisement.”

Wegmans

From Wegmans: "On Sunday, April 15, all of the chopped, whole and romaine hearts sold in our stores comes from growing areas other than Yuma, AZ. When the CDC/FDA issued the advisory about chopped romaine grown in Yuma on Friday, April 13, we removed any remaining product from our stores."

"We also have point-of-sale signs posted in our stores explaining that all our romaine is from growing areas other than Yuma," Tracy Van Auker, media relations at Wegmans, told Cooking Light via email.

The bottom line: Many major grocery stores are following CDC guidance in removing Yuma-grown romaine from their shelves. Still, due to the size and severity of the outbreak and the fact that the CDC’s investigation of the outbreak is ongoing, it may be best to avoid romaine altogether until further notice.

For the most up-to-date information and guidance on the outbreak, check the CDC’s E. coli information page.


Local restaurants and stores respond to E. Coli reports

E. Coli has now been reported in 19 states including California from romaine lettuce.

The Center for Disease Control says 84 people have gotten sick from E. Coli in those 19 states. In response local Bakersfield restaurants and grocery stores are being extra cautious to prevent that from happening in Kern County.

Gabriela Gonzalez is the owner of Toss It. She said she was nervous when she first heard about the reports, especially because she owns a salad restaurant.

Gonzalez said, "Romaine is like our main ingredient. So romaine and spring mix, so we have to make sure we're aware."

The CDC says California and Pennsylvania have been hit the hardest by romaine lettuce having E. Coli. But that's not stopping customers from ordering salad in Downtown Bakersfield.

Sophia Cummings ordered a salad and while eating it said, "I have a bachelorette party that I will be at in two weeks. And I want to look bathing suit ready."

Chasity Goodson also ate a salad at Toss It and said, "I wasn't concerned about it. I think that this is a clean establishment. I'm sure they put a lot of effort, especially since it is a salad place they probably put forth an extra effort to make sure that it's been washed or that they changed their vendor or somewhere."

The CDC says typical symptoms of E. Coli include stomach cramps, diarrhea, often bloody, and vomiting. While most cases are mild and you get better in a couple days, the CDC says some case can be life-threatening.

And getting people sick is not something Gonzalez says she wants to do with her salads.

"It's the main ingredient, so we didn't stop carrying it. We always carry it. We just make sure that we bought locally and we properly wash it," said Gonzalez.

The CDC says romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona is suspected of causing the E. Coli. And that led Gonzalez to post a sign of where in California her lettuce is coming from for her customers to see.

"That makes them feel a little bit more comfortable, but some have completely stayed away from it. And they like jumped over to spring mix," said Gonzalez.

23 ABC has reached out to most of the major grocery store chains in Bakersfield. Here is how they've responded to the reports:

Albertson's: Waiting for corporate response.

CostCo: Waiting for corporate response.

FoodsCo: Still selling romaine lettuce. Store cleared shelves of possible effected lettuce, will give full refund. Still waiting for corporate response.

FoodMaxx: Buys their romaine lettuce from California. Checked their shelves, didn’t have any from affected area.

Smart & Final: Checked their supply chain and made sure not to buy from any farms that have been linked to the outbreak of salmonella.

Target: Still selling romaine lettuce. Store cleared shelves of possible effected lettuce, will give full refunds. Still waiting for corporate response.

Trader Joe's: Still waiting for corporate response.

Walmart: Couldn't get through to their corporate, store manager couldn't answer our questions.


A Shortage of This Popular Produce Is Looming, Experts Warn

You might not see many heads of lettuce in the grocery store crisper in the coming weeks—and your fast-food sandwich might be short a few shreds, too. A number of shortages plagued the country in 2020, including toilet paper, cranberries, and even foreign beer. Causes ranged from bankruptcy to lockdown stockpiling, but unusual weather is behind this latest shortage. (Related: 8 Grocery Items That May Soon Be in Short Supply Again.)

California experienced unseasonably hot weather earlier this year, which impacted the lettuce crop in the state. "We had two heat events in mid-August and early September," Richard Smith, a farm advisor for vegetable crop production at the University of California, tells Eat This, Not That!. "They did cause some quality issues, but the bigger issue is that they set off a disease on the lettuce that caused extensive crop loss."

The outbreak of the disease, known as Pythium wilt, was unprecedented in its widespread severity. Ash from the wildfires earlier this year could have also damaged some of the lettuce, Christopher Valadez, President of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, told CBS in Fresno County.

Californian farms account for over 70% of the lettuce grown in the U.S., according to Agricultural Marketing Resouce Center, so this kind of crop loss could potentially cause nationwide shortages. According to Smith, lettuce prices also went up last month in response to the reduced supply.

This isn't the first time lettuce has made headlines. Just recently, bags of lettuce and salad kits containing romaine were recalled over possible E. coli contamination, and a recent lawsuit filed against Chipotle alleged that a customer developed E. coli from the romaine lettuce in the fast-food chain's salad bowls.

Lettuce is grown in microclimates in places like Mexico, Canada, and other parts of the world to ensure a year-round supply, so we may not have to wait too long before there's enough of this salad staple to go around. Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy options to replace lettuce on your shopping list in the meantime.

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Mystery surrounds two new E. coli outbreaks with genetic links to past Romaine events

With Halloween only hours away, two new E. coli outbreaks have shown up to haunt the nation’s Romaine growers because genetic links to the past have been discovered.

The two outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157: H7 (STEC) illnesses are under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control, and Prevention (CDC), along with various state and local health departments.

“We do not know what food is causing people to get sick or whether it involves an FDA-regulated food product,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “However, we have seen similar recurring, emerging, or persistent strains of E. coli in recent outbreaks. E. coli O157: H7 can contaminate many foods, and we cannot assume that the current outbreaks are linked to historically associated foods like romaine and other leafy greens. There is no information currently to indicate that people should avoid any specific food.”

“We are issuing this update early in our investigation as part of our continued commitment to transparency and early communication, ” he added. “We are also working toward making a new resource available soon on our website to provide early updates on new and active investigations. We are closely working with our partners at the CDC and the states to pinpoint the sources of the E. coli O157: H7 illness outbreaks and will share information as it becomes available.”

  • Two distinct outbreaks of foodborne illness of E. coli O157: H7 (STEC) are under investigation involving recurring, emerging, or persistent strains.
  • To support the CDC’s epidemiological investigation, the FDA is conducting traceback investigations, on-site inspections, and sampling in an effort to rule in or rule out suspect foods.
  • While there have been no specific foods definitively linked to these outbreaks, the FDA has taken a number of actions to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks and strengthen safeguards for consumers as part of our New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, including the issuance of the Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan, which outlined actions that the FDA plans to take in 2020 to advance work in three areas: prevention, response and addressing knowledge gaps. Actions completed this year include:
    • Publication of a report following our investigation into three 2019 outbreaks of E. coli O157: H7 in leafy greens grown in the Salinas Valley, California , which further increased our understanding of how leafy greens may have become contaminated and the impact of animal activity on adjacent and nearby land.
    • In collaboration with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), prioritized inspections and other surveillance activities at farms identified by traceback in the 2019 outbreaks during the 2020 growing/harvest season specifically to further investigate harvest operations and factors in the environment that may have contributed to the introduction and transmission of E. coli O157: H7 that led to the contamination of romaine lettuce in the Salinas Valley growing area.
    • Initiated a longitudinal research study with CDFA and other agricultural partners in California to improve food safety through our enhanced understanding of the ecology of human pathogens in the environment that may cause foodborne illness outbreaks. In addition, our inspection activity in the Central Coast, Central Valley, and Imperial Valley in California and in Yuma, Arizona , includes sampling and testing for pathogenic E. coli and Salmonella with a new sampling assignment as well as sampling assignments for the last few years.

    Outbreak 1 – possibly linked to the 2018 Yuma Romaine E. coli Outbreak.

    As of October 28, 2020, a total of 21 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157: H7 have been reported from eight states.

    Illnesses started on dates ranging from June 6, 2020, to October 5, 2020. Ill people range in age from 2 to 75 years, with a median age of 24 years. Sixty-seven percent of ill people are female. Of 16 ill people with information available, 8 hospitalizations have been reported, including 1 person who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. One death has been reported from Michigan.

    Several ill people have been identified as part of an illness cluster at a restaurant. An illness cluster is defined as two or more people from different households who report eating at the same restaurant location, attending a common event, or purchasing food at the same grocery store in the week before becoming ill. Investigating illness clusters can provide critical clues about the source of an outbreak. If several unrelated ill people ate or shopped at the same location of a restaurant or store within several days of each other, it suggests that the contaminated food item was served or sold there.

    The strain of E. coli O157: H7 causing illness in this outbreak has previously caused outbreaks linked to different sources, including an outbreak linked to romaine lettuce in 2018. However, food linked to a previous outbreak alone is not enough to prove a link in another outbreak of the same strain. This is because different foods can be contaminated by the same strain of bacteria.

    Outbreak 2 – possibly linked to 2019 Salinas Romaine E. coli Outbreak.

    As of October 28, 2020, a total of 23 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157: H7 have been reported from 12 states.

    Illnesses started on dates ranging from August 17, 2020, to October 8, 2020. Ill people range in age from 5 to 81 years, with a median age of 21 years. Sixty-seven percent of ill people are female. Of 15 ill people with information available, 10 hospitalizations have been reported, including 2 people who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

    State and local public health officials are interviewing ill people to determine what they ate and other exposures in the week before they got sick. People have reported eating a variety of foods, including leafy greens. Of the 13 people interviewed to date, all reported eating various types of leafy greens, like iceberg lettuce (9), romaine lettuce (8), mixed bag lettuce (6), and spinach (9).

    This outbreak is caused by the same strain of E. coli O157: H7 that caused an outbreak linked to romaine lettuce in 2019. However, food linked to a previous outbreak alone is not enough to prove a link in another outbreak of the same strain. This is because different foods can be contaminated by the same strain of bacteria.

    (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News,click here.)


    E. Coli: What is it and Why is it Important?

    If you enjoy including Romaine lettuce in your salad, you’ve most likely noticed the empty spaces in the grocery store produce aisle where Romaine used to be found. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA), and public health and regulatory officials in several states are investigating a multi-state outbreak of dangerous Escherichia coli O157:H7 that has infected over 50 people from 16 different states. People first began to get sick on March 13, 2018 and the CDC began their investigation on April 10, 2018.

    So, What is E. Coli?

    E. coli is a large group of bacteria that are found throughout our environment as well as within our own digestive system. E. coli was first identified by the German microbiologist and pediatrician Theodor Escherich when he studied the role of bacteria in the digestive tracts of infants in 1884.

    Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but some types can lead to diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, or pneumonia. The strain of E. coli that is the most dangerous to humans is E. coli O157:H7, known as a STEC or ‘Shiga toxin-producing’ E. coli. STEC is most often found in the digestive tracts of cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and elk. STEC doesn’t make these animals sick, but it can cause human illness. Sometimes other types of animals, like pigs and birds, pick up STEC from the environment and can spread it in their feces.

    STEC is especially dangerous because it can easily contaminate our food supply. Vegetables like Romaine lettuce can be contaminated via fertilizer and water, or through contact with livestock-associated birds. STEC can also be transmitted to humans via the fecal contamination of meat during butchering and packaging.

    Why is STEC So Dangerous?

    The Shiga toxin produced by STEC attacks small blood vessels inside our body, kills intestinal cells, and causes bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal pain. Sometimes people affected by STEC believe they have the flu and don’t seek treatment.

    STEC can sometimes lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially-deadly condition that can involve widespread blood clots and hemolytic anemia (the abnormal breakdown of red blood cells), thrombocytopenia (a lack of blood platelets which reduces the blood’s ability to form clots), and renal failure.

    According to CDC data, the current E. coli outbreak associated with Romaine lettuce is the first this year. Since 2006, typically 2-3 outbreaks occur each year in foods including alfalfa sprouts, leafy greens, ready-to-eat salad, ground beef, cheese, and pre-packaged cookie dough.

    What is the Cause of the Current Outbreak?

    Investigators narrowed down the source of the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria to Romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. Over 90% of the lettuce in your grocery stores during the winter months is grown in Yuma, in the southwestern corner of Arizona where the sun shines 350 days during the year. While we know the current E. coli outbreak occurred in Yuma, the exact source of the contamination has not yet been determined.

    What Actions Should I Take Now?

    The CDC recommends throwing out all uneaten Romaine lettuce, both whole heads of Romaine as well as bagged, chopped Romaine and salad mixes that contain Romaine lettuce unless you know for sure that it was not grown in Yuma. Since packaging labels typically don’t identify growing regions, if you’re unsure, it’s safest to throw out the lettuce. Restaurants and retailers should not sell or serve Romaine lettuce in any form unless they know for certain that it was not grown in Yuma. Romaine lettuce grown anywhere except Yuma is safe to eat.

    If you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days, or have diarrhea with high fever and bloody stools, or are vomiting and can’t keep down liquids, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider. Very young children, the elderly, and anyone with a chronic health condition should be especially vigilant and contact their healthcare providers immediately.

    The CDC Recommends These 6 Steps to Prevent a STEC Infection:

    1. Wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or before preparing food.
    2. Wash your hands after contact with animals in any location, including farms, petting zoos, fairs, or your own backyard.
      Cook meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 160°F/70°C. It’s best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of “doneness.”
    3. Do not drink unpasteurized milk, dairy products, or juices (like fresh apple cider).
    4. Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard ‘kiddie’ pools.
    5. Prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen by thoroughly washing counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.

    The Bottom Line: While E. coli is potentially dangerous, there are steps we can take to prevent an infection. For now, substitute other types of dark green leafy plants like arugula, spinach, endive, or butter lettuce for Romaine so that you continue to enjoy the nutrition benefits of these foods.


    It’s Finally Safe to Eat Romaine Lettuce Again

    UPDATE (January 29, 2018) — Finally some good news: The E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce is over at last, according to U.S. health experts. Following the announcement of the end of the outbreak, Consumer Reports is no longer recommending that consumers avoid romaine lettuce.

    “It’s encouraging that since mid-December there have been no more reports of people getting sick from this dangerous strain of E. coli,” said James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports.

    During the outbreak, two people in the U.S. and Canada died, 22 were hospitalized, and 66 became ill. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said it would continue working with federal, state, and local partners to find out which specific leafy greens made people sick and where they bought the greens.

    UPDATE (January 11, 2018) — Bad news for Americans: Though the E. coli outbreak has ended in Canada, it’s spreading even further throughout the United States.

    Maryland and New Jersey have both been struck by the outbreak, making it 15 states total that have been affected so far. Those two states join California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the total number of those infected with the illness is now 24. Nine of those people have been hospitalized, two of whom are suffering from kidney failure. As previously reported, there has been one death in the U.S. as a result of this outbreak.

    Though Consumer Reports previously warned Americans to avoid romaine lettuce upon initial reporting of the outbreak, the CDC is now identifying the likely source as a more general “leafy greens.”

    “The likely source of the outbreak in the United States appears to be leafy greens, but officials have not specifically identified a type of leafy greens eaten by people who became ill,” the CDC said.

    The good news? Officials think the outbreak might be over soon.

    “Leafy greens typically have a short shelf life, and since the last illness started a month ago, it is likely that contaminated leafy greens linked to this outbreak are no longer available for sale,” the CDC said.

    ORIGINAL ARTICLE (January 4, 2018) — Step away from the Caesar salad for now, folks. According to Consumer Reports, romaine lettuce is likely the cause of recent cases of E. coli food poisoning — and this strain is particularly dangerous.

    Over the past seven weeks, there have been 58 reported cases so far in the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S., the infections have occurred in 13 states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. Tragically, two people have already died.

    Canadian health authorities identified romaine lettuce as the cause of the E. coli outbreak in their country, and they have since advised people to avoid this specific salad green until further notice. And now, food safety experts at Consumer Reports are advising consumers in the States to avoid the lettuce as well, until the specific product causing the outbreak is identified and removed from shelves.

    “Even though we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is almost always consumed raw,” said James Rogers, Ph.D., Director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports.

    As you might know, E. coli is nothing to mess around with. Health experts say the worst types of E. coli can potentially cause bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, and even death in some cases. Though anyone can get sick from accidentally consuming food contaminated by E. coli, children and adults with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable.

    To keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy, it’s probably a good idea to avoid all types of romaine lettuce until the contaminated product is confirmed — and removed from all grocery stores.

    Next, find out how long foods actually last past the expiration date:


    Romaine lettuce ‘particularly susceptible’ to E. coli outbreaks

    Grocery stores have pulled romaine lettuce off their shelves and many restaurants have stopped serving caesar salads after the leafy green has been linked to an E. coli outbreak for the third time in about a year.

    The lettuce is more susceptible to E. coli contamination partly because of how it’s grown, experts say, and its increasingly tarnished image could shake consumer confidence into not buying the salad green even after non-contaminated produce appears on store shelves and restaurant tables again.

    Romaine lettuce is particularly susceptible,” said Keith Warriner, a University of Guelph professor. “In our own research, what we found is that E. coli likes romaine lettuce out of all the other lettuces we have.”

    There have been 19 confirmed cases of E. coli illness investigated in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick as of Wednesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a public health notice. The sick range from five to 93 years old and most reported eating romaine lettuce before experiencing symptoms.

    People living in those provinces should avoid eating romaine lettuce for now, the agency said.

    In the states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered retailers and restaurants to stop selling the product. The strain infected 32 people across 11 states as of Tuesday, according to the agency’s most recent update.

    Warriner conducted a study that showed romaine lettuce extracts prompted E. coli out of a dormant state, which it can remain in for about a year in soil, and allowed it to flourish.

    Romaine’s increased susceptibility comes down to several factors, he said.

    The crop is mostly grown in Arizona and California, Warriner said, which is also cattle country. Irrigation water used on romaine fields can become tainted with bacteria from the animals. It doesn’t help that both states are quite hot and romaine lettuce already requires an abundance of water, he said.

    Certainly, other crops like spinach and kale are also grown in those areas under similar conditions, however those leaves are “tough as nails,” he said and can better withstand damage.

    The centralized production also means if an outbreak occurs, it becomes widespread as the product is sent all over Canada and the U.S., he said.

    Finally, washing lettuce at home doesn’t do anything, said Warriner, and “more likely re-contaminates than de-contaminates it.” Not to mention, the product is consumed raw, meaning cooking can’t kill off any bacteria.

    Recalls cause a lot of mistrust in consumer confidence in the food chain, said Katy Jones, chief marketing officer at North Carolina-based FoodLogiQ. The company offers technology that helps companies in the food industry track their supply chain and respond to recalls effectively.

    Some consumers complained on Twitter about consistently being told to throw out pricey packages of products containing romaine. Others said they’ve long since stopped buying the lettuce variety.

    It’s reminiscent of a 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach, Jones said. In the U.S., 199 people were infected and three died, according to the CDC. Canada had at least one confirmed case.

    Some have speculated that incident led consumers to shun spinach in favour of kale, she said. The so-called superfood saw a meteoric rise with kale-devoted cookbooks containing recipes of chips and caesar salads made with kale bringing the food into the mainstream.

    But consumers tend to continue buying from companies that handle such recalls well, Jones said, meaning honestly and responsibly.

    “As opposed to some of these other types of recalls that we see where they drag on for weeks,” she said. “That’s what’s going to increase consumer confidence is if companies get ahead of the curve.”


    Romaine lettuce 'particularly susceptible' to E. coli outbreaks

    Grocery stores have pulled romaine lettuce off their shelves and many restaurants have stopped serving caesar salads after the leafy green has been linked to an E. coli outbreak for the third time in about a year.

    The lettuce is more susceptible to E. coli contamination partly because of how it’s grown, experts say, and its increasingly tarnished image could shake consumer confidence into not buying the salad green even after non-contaminated produce appears on store shelves and restaurant tables again.

    Romaine lettuce is particularly susceptible,” said Keith Warriner, a University of Guelph professor. “In our own research, what we found is that E. coli likes romaine lettuce out of all the other lettuces we have.”

    There have been 19 confirmed cases of E. coli illness investigated in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick as of Wednesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a public health notice. The sick range from five to 93 years old and most reported eating romaine lettuce before experiencing symptoms.

    People living in those provinces should avoid eating romaine lettuce for now, the agency said.

    In the states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered retailers and restaurants to stop selling the product. The strain infected 32 people across 11 states as of Tuesday, according to the agency’s most recent update.

    Warriner conducted a study that showed romaine lettuce extracts prompted E. coli out of a dormant state, which it can remain in for about a year in soil, and allowed it to flourish.

    Romaine’s increased susceptibility comes down to several factors, he said.

    The crop is mostly grown in Arizona and California, Warriner said, which is also cattle country. Irrigation water used on romaine fields can become tainted with bacteria from the animals. It doesn’t help that both states are quite hot and romaine lettuce already requires an abundance of water, he said.

    Certainly, other crops like spinach and kale are also grown in those areas under similar conditions, however those leaves are “tough as nails,” he said and can better withstand damage.

    The centralized production also means if an outbreak occurs, it becomes widespread as the product is sent all over Canada and the U.S., he said.

    Finally, washing lettuce at home doesn’t do anything, said Warriner, and “more likely re-contaminates than de-contaminates it.” Not to mention, the product is consumed raw, meaning cooking can’t kill off any bacteria.

    Recalls cause a lot of mistrust in consumer confidence in the food chain, said Katy Jones, chief marketing officer at North Carolina-based FoodLogiQ. The company offers technology that helps companies in the food industry track their supply chain and respond to recalls effectively.

    Some consumers complained on Twitter about consistently being told to throw out pricey packages of products containing romaine. Others said they’ve long since stopped buying the lettuce variety.

    It’s reminiscent of a 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach, Jones said. In the U.S., 199 people were infected and three died, according to the CDC. Canada had at least one confirmed case.

    Some have speculated that incident led consumers to shun spinach in favour of kale, she said. The so-called superfood saw a meteoric rise with kale-devoted cookbooks containing recipes of chips and caesar salads made with kale bringing the food into the mainstream.

    But consumers tend to continue buying from companies that handle such recalls well, Jones said, meaning honestly and responsibly.

    “As opposed to some of these other types of recalls that we see where they drag on for weeks,” she said. “That’s what’s going to increase consumer confidence is if companies get ahead of the curve.”


    Romaine lettuce to blame for multi-state E. coli outbreak

    Chopped romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona, area is to blame for a multistate E. coli outbreak, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

    “At this time, no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand has been identified,” the CDC said.

    So far 35 cases of E. coli illness in 11 states have been reported and linked to the outbreak. The earliest symptoms began on March 22. Twenty-two of the ill individuals have been hospitalized. Three of those patients developed a type of kidney failure associated with an E. coli illness called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be life-threatening.

    Symptoms of E. coli typically begin two to eight days after consuming the bacteria, although most patients become ill three or four days after consumption. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover in five to seven days. Those most at risk for E. coli illness include the very young, the very old and individuals with compromised immune systems.

    Health officials warned the public to stay away from chopped romaine lettuce. “Consumers anywhere in the United States who have store-bought chopped romaine lettuce at home, including salads and salad mixes containing chopped romaine lettuce, should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away,” the CDC said.

    Restaurants and stores are advised not to serve or sell chopped romaine lettuce.

    In addition, the agency recommends asking grocery stores and restaurants to confirm their chopped romaine is not from Yuma.

    The advice is based on interviews with 28 of the ill individuals in which 93% of them reported consuming romaine lettuce within the week they began feeling sick.

    “Most people reported eating a salad at a restaurant, and romaine lettuce was the only common ingredient identified among the salads eaten. The restaurants reported using bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make salads,” according to the investigation report which also noted there are no reports involving whole heads or hearts of romaine.

    The CDC and the US Food and Drug Administration are continuing to work with state and local health officials to further identify the source of the contaminated romaine.


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    It’s reminiscent of a 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach, Jones said. In the U.S., 199 people were infected and three died, according to the CDC. Canada had at least one confirmed case.

    Some have speculated that incident led consumers to shun spinach in favour of kale, she said. The so-called superfood saw a meteoric rise with kale-devoted cookbooks containing recipes of chips and caesar salads made with kale bringing the food into the mainstream.

    But consumers tend to continue buying from companies that handle such recalls well, Jones said, meaning honestly and responsibly.

    “As opposed to some of these other types of recalls that we see where they drag on for weeks,” she said. “That’s what’s going to increase consumer confidence is if companies get ahead of the curve.”