Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak has claimed its first casualty [UPDATED]

Illustration for article titled Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak has claimed its first casualty [UPDATED]
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Thursday, May 3 Update: CNN and other outlets report today that the E. coli outbreak tied to prepackaged chopped romaine lettuce has now spread to 25 states, affecting 121 people, including the outbreak’s first casualty in California. The CDC stated earlier this week that “the strain identified in this outbreak is particularly virulent and known to be associated with higher hospitalization and complication rates.” Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting, and begin three to four days after consuming the tainted substance. The most recent cases reported symptoms starting on April 21.


If you miss romaine lettuce, yesterday Lifehacker offered a substitute for your Caesar salad needs, even though it pointed out “it’s reportedly safe to consume romaine lettuce that you’re positively sure isn’t from Yuma, Arizona.” Still, “it’s also perfectly normal to feel a little wary of that particular leaf.”

[Note: Lifehacker, like The Takeout, is owned by Univision Communications.]

Thursday, April 20: We reported earlier this week on various food safety issues, including an E. coli outbreak tied to chopped romaine lettuce sold in prepackaged salad mixes. Since then, the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention has reported that the outbreak has spread to 16 states and has affected 53 people. So now, the CDC is very clear on its website: “If you have store-bought chopped romaine lettuce at home, including salads and salad mixes with chopped romaine, don’t eat it and throw it away.” Can’t get much clearer than that.

The CDC says that the outbreak can not be traced to a specific farmer or supplier, it does say that the affected lettuce appears to come from the Yuma, Arizona region. But if you’re curious as to how the CDC manages to track these types of outbreaks, NPR notes that the CDC traced the infection “to romaine lettuce after interviewing many of the sick people and asking about the foods they had eaten and other exposures before they became ill. Nearly all—41 of 43—said they had eaten romaine lettuce in the week before they were interview[ed]… After checking with the restaurants where the interviewees had eaten, it became clear the restaurants had used bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make their salads. The CDC said, the patients didn’t report whole heads or hearts of romaine.”

So that bagged romaine-containing salad in your fridge, even if you’ve already eaten out of it and not gotten sick? Toss it. Don’t even look at. Just throw it away.

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.


Manic Otti

Romaine is a trash weed variety of lettuce and should be thrown away anyway. The only reason it is so popular is because big lettuce has been pushing it on the market because it’s cheaper to produce than iceberg. Romaine is much more heat tolerant and can be grown in places like Arizona, where there are vast tracts of cheap, otherwise useless land. It also grows more upright, so you can grow several heads of romaine in the same space as a single head of iceberg (3x the money for the same amount of land!). The downsides are many. It’s relatively easily contaminated, and harder to wash once it is. The only part of the leaf that’s crisp on romaine is the stem. The rest of the leaf is as flacid and floppy as grampa’s wanger after a six pack. It does have a bit more “flavor” but most of that flavor is bitterness. If you like bitterness, just go eat some dandelions. People always gloat about it having more nutrition than iceberg, but who cares about nutrition anyway? Yes, it is does have more nutrients than iceberg, but iceberg also has nutrients, just less of them. The main difference is that romaine has much more vitamin B, But who eats lettuce only salads? just throw some carrots, spinach, or kale in your iceberg lettuce salad if you’re some kind of nutrient obsessed nut, and call it good.