Avoid eating romaine lettuce in any form until federal officials sound the all clear. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control are telling consumers to throw away romaine that comes from Yuma, Ariz. Their warning now includes whole heads and hearts of romaine lettuce, in addition to chopped romaine and salads and salad mixes containing romaine. Government investigators have linked a dangerous E. coli outbreak to bagged, chopped romaine lettuce grown in Yuma.
Federal agencies have recommended consumers buy romaine only if they can determine the lettuce does not come from Yuma.
Consumer Reports goes a step further and advises skipping all romaine from all growing regions, not just Yuma. Their experts believe that buyers would have difficulty determining where the romaine they purchase is from. That’s why Consumer Reports experts believe it’s best to avoid the lettuce altogether.
The warnings come after an E.coli outbreak dating back to March 13 that has sickened 60 people in 16 states. The strain of E. coli, known as 0157:H7, produces a Shiga toxin that induces symptoms of vomiting, painful cramps and diarrhea that is often bloody.
Most romaine sold in the United States during the winter is grown in the Yuma region. Since romaine has a short shelf life and the winter growing season is ending in Yuma, it’s likely that any romaine sold now is from California, not AZ,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently tweeted on April 23.
“Consumers should continue asking grocers and restaurants to make sure their romaine isn’t from Yuma,” Gottlieb said. No specific grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been identified at the time of his tweet, he said.
That’s not good enough, say food policy advocates.
“It is unrealistic to expect consumers to figure out whether their romaine was produced in Arizona or somewhere else, especially when eating in a restaurant,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.
“The FDA should just advise consumers to avoid romaine lettuce until further notice.”
“Consumer Reports is making this recommendation given the potentially fatal consequences of E. coli, the fact that there are still several unknowns about this outbreak, and that no type of romaine has been ruled definitively safe by government officials,” says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports. “While we are making this decision out of an abundance of caution, this warning is particularly important for vulnerable people like the elderly, pregnant women, and young children.”
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