It’s rare that Consumer Reports and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for customers to completely avoid a product.
The warnings are usually tied to a specific brand, manufacturing date or region of origin, but not this week. Today, health officials expanded their concerns about E. coli-contaminated lettuce to include heads of lettuce, not just bags.
Although the most recent round of contaminated lettuce is thought to have originated in Arizona, so many bags of lettuce and heads of lettuce do not have origin information that they are now recommending that everyone avoid lettuce. (This outbreak appears unrelated to the one last fall and in January that sickened several dozen people in Canada.)
More than 60 people in 16 states have been sickened by eating lettuce in the past month, which prompted calls to avoid bagged lettuce specifically from Arizona. No Texans have been affected and no deaths have been reported, but the health effects of this particular strain seem to be particularly nasty, which is part of the reason behind the expanded warning. An H-E-B spokesperson said on Friday afternoon that they “do not source romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona, so we’re clear.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that new information about the illnesses in Alaska led them to expand a warning beyond chopped romaine to include any type of romaine lettuce, including whole heads and hearts of romaine.
Although the exact source hasn’t been identified, federal health officials have said information indicates the contaminated lettuce was grown in the Yuma, Ariz., area. But consumers anywhere in the United States who have store-bought romaine at home, including in salads and salad mixes, should throw it away immediately if they don’t know its specific source, officials said — even if some had already been eaten with no ill effects.
As with most outbreaks, this one involves the industrial food supply chain. If you buy lettuce directly from the source, perhaps at a farmers market or in your own backyard, proceed as usual. Just don’t forget to wash the lettuce. Even small farms (and your garden) can have nasty bacteria you don’t want to consume.