Over the last year, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding romaine lettuce. Due to several outbreaks of E. coli, many people have been wondering whether it’s safe to eat this popular leafy green. Despite the concerns, romaine lettuce can still be enjoyed safely, as long as certain precautions are taken. In this article, we’ll explore the truth about the latest outbreak and give you some tips for enjoying romaine lettuce safely.
The Recent Outbreaks
Since 2018, there have been multiple outbreaks of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce. These outbreaks have affected people in the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe. In October 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that they were investigating an outbreak linked to romaine lettuce harvested in Salinas, California. At the time of this writing, there have been 12 reported cases of illness across six states.
What is E. coli?
E. coli is a type of bacteria that is commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, there are some strains that can cause illness. The strain of E. coli that is typically associated with foodborne illness is called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Most people recover within a week, but in some cases, the illness can be severe and even life-threatening.
What Causes E. coli Outbreaks?
E. coli outbreaks are typically linked to contaminated food products. In the case of romaine lettuce, the bacteria are thought to be introduced into the food supply through contaminated water sources or soil. Once contaminated, the bacteria can spread easily and can be difficult to eradicate.
Is It Safe to Eat Romaine Lettuce?
Despite the recent outbreaks, it is still safe to eat romaine lettuce as long as certain precautions are taken. Here are some tips for enjoying romaine lettuce safely:
Buy from a Reputable Source
When buying romaine lettuce, make sure to purchase it from a reputable source. Look for lettuce that appears fresh and has no signs of decay or damage. If you’re unsure about the source of the lettuce, ask the retailer where it came from and whether it has been tested for E. coli.
Wash Your Hands
Before handling lettuce, it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This helps to remove any bacteria that may be on your hands that could contaminate the lettuce. Always wash your hands before and after handling food.
Wash Your Lettuce
Even if you have purchased lettuce that has been pre-washed, it’s still a good idea to wash it again at home. To do this, fill a large bowl with cool water and add the lettuce. Swish the lettuce around in the water to remove any dirt or debris. Then, rinse the lettuce well under cold running water. Finally, dry the lettuce with a clean towel or a salad spinner.
Cook the Lettuce
If you’re still concerned about the safety of romaine lettuce, you can also choose to cook it. Cooking lettuce is not common, but it can be a tasty addition to soups or stir-fries. Cooking the lettuce can also help to kill any bacteria that may be present.
Romaine lettuce is a healthy and nutritious food that can be enjoyed safely as long as certain precautions are taken. By buying lettuce from a reputable source, washing your hands and lettuce, and cooking the lettuce if you prefer, you can reduce the risk of illness from E. coli. As with any food, it’s important to use common sense and take steps to minimize the risk of contamination. By doing so, you can enjoy the benefits of romaine lettuce without the worry of illness.
Most Common Questions and Answers
- Is it safe to eat romaine lettuce?
Yes, it is safe to eat romaine lettuce as long as certain precautions are taken.
- What is E. coli?
E. coli is a type of bacteria that can cause illness. The strain that is typically associated with foodborne illness is called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).
- What causes E. coli outbreaks?
E. coli outbreaks are typically linked to contaminated food products, such as romaine lettuce.
- How can I reduce the risk of illness from romaine lettuce?
You can reduce the risk of illness by buying lettuce from a reputable source, washing your hands and lettuce, and cooking the lettuce if you prefer.
- What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?
Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Outbreak of E. coli Infections Linked to Romaine Lettuce from Salinas, California. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2020/o157h7-11-20/index.html
- Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Leafy Greens. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/leafy-greens
- World Health Organization. (2018). Escherichia coli. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/escherichia-coli