Bottom Line – “When in doubt, throw it out!”
We have been fielding a large number calls over the past couple of weeks from people concerned that they may have E. coli caused by the consumption of romaine lettuce.
Also, calls have been coming in from people with romaine lettuce recently purchased wanting to know if it is now “safe.”
I’ll approach what to do it you believe you or a family has consumed E. coli-tainted romaine.
First, the incubation period (time between ingestion and first symptoms) can be 1 to 10 days, but most likely 3 to 4 days. Symptoms of an E. coli infection tend to be:
- Stomach cramps (abdominal pain)
- Diarrhea that often is bloody
- Fever of about 100 F to 101 F (37.7 C to 38.3 C)
- Loss of appetite
- Mild dehydration
If you are experiencing these symptoms, please seek medical attention. Do receive a stool culture as that is the only way to determine that you do or do not have a foodborne E. coli infection.
With respect to the romaine in your fridge being “safe,” I recall a wise health official once after an E. coli outbreak linked to spinach, saying that “spinach now is as safe as it was before the outbreak” – meaning that a raw agricultural product, without a “kill step,” can never truly by 100% “safe.”
That being said, her is what the FDA and CDC are saying about what romaine is and is not presently of concern:
Consumers should not eat romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California. Additionally, consumers should not eat products identified in the recall announced by the USDA on November 21, 2019.
The Maryland Department of Health identified E. coli O157:H7 in an unopened package of Ready Pac Bistro® Chicken Caesar Salad collected from an ill person’s home in Maryland. Analysis of this salad, through Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), has linked strain E. coli O157:H7 to three Maryland cases and the multi-state outbreak.
Romaine lettuce may be voluntarily labeled with a harvest region. If this voluntary label indicates that the romaine lettuce was grown in “Salinas” (whether alone or with the name of another location) do not eat it. Throw it away or return it to the place of purchase. If romaine lettuce does not have information about harvest region or does not indicate that it has been grown indoors (i.e., hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown), throw it away or return it to the place of purchase. Consumers ordering salad containing romaine at a restaurant or at a salad bar should ask the staff whether the romaine came from Salinas. If it did, or they do not know, do not eat it.
At this time, romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Salinas region has not been implicated in this outbreak investigation. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine, which is voluntarily labeled as “indoor grown,” from any region does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers to avoid using romaine harvested from these other sources.
Restaurants and Retailers: Restaurants and retailers should not serve or sell romaine harvested from Salinas, California. If you do not know the source of your romaine lettuce, and if you cannot obtain that information from your supplier, you should not serve, nor sell it.
Suppliers and Distributors: Suppliers, distributors and others in the supply chain should not ship or sell romaine harvested in Salinas, California. If the source of the romaine lettuce is unknown, you should not ship, nor sell the product.
For Restaurants, Retailers, Suppliers and Distributors: Currently, the FDA does not have enough traceback information to identify the specific source of the contamination that would allow us to request a targeted recall from specific growers. At this stage in the investigation, the most efficient way to ensure that contaminated romaine is off the market would be for industry to voluntarily withdraw product grown in Salinas, and to withhold distribution of Salinas romaine for the remainder of the growing season in Salinas. FDA has made this request of industry.
At this time, romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Salinas region has not been implicated in this outbreak investigation. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine, which is voluntarily labeled as “indoor grown,” from any region does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these other sources.