By: Candess Zona-Mendola
The United States is polarized on a hot topic right now – to eat or not to eat – romaine that is. Several food agencies in the United States and Canada have pulled romaine from their shelves. Others claim they will still be serving the lettuce until a recall is issued. With almost 60 illnesses, 2 deaths, 13 states, and 2 countries involved, many consumers are finding themselves wondering if a salad is really the healthiest option for them right now.
Pulling Romaine Off the Shelves
In a recent interview this week on Fox, Wendy’s restaurants across the nation have confirmed they temporarily will stop selling some of their salads. According to their statement to the press:
“We haven’t removed all salads from our menu—just those containing romaine lettuce. Wendy’s restaurants in the U.S. and Canada have temporarily removed Caesar Salads from our menu, but our customers can still enjoy our other fresh-made salads, like the Taco Salad or Power Mediterranean Salad. It’s important to note that we are not aware of any romaine lettuce purchased or consumed from a Wendy’s restaurant having been linked to the investigations in any way. This temporary removal of romaine lettuce from our restaurants is simply a measure we’re taking out of an abundance of caution and to avoid any customer confusion.”
The University of Michigan’s dining hall also stopped serving romaine to its students and faculty. According to Rachel Christensen, the Food and Occupational Safety Manager of Michigan Dining:
“As a precautionary move, all University dining halls replaced their romaine lettuce with spinach and mixed greens on Friday. We are aware of the issue and have pulled all romaine lettuce from service as a precautionary measure…Thus far, we have received no recall information from our vendors.”
Others Continue Sales
Meanwhile, Chipotle claims that their restaurants are not affected, so they will continue sales.
They are not alone. Other restaurants, even in states with confirmed illnesses, are still serving the potentially contaminated greens. Now, more than ever, are consumers urged to take caution to what they are eating, and what goes into their salads.
Politicians Push for Recalls
Politicians have even began to make statements about the outbreaks. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the House Food Safety Caucus and Ranking Member of the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the CDC, had some strong feelings about the outbreak. According to her public release:
“News that a strain of E. coli has caused dozens of illnesses and taken two lives in the United States and Canada is heartbreaking and disconcerting. The CDC and the FDA should at least give consumers updated information on the status of their investigation, since the first reported illness connected to the current outbreak occurred nearly two months ago. Yet the Administration has shown a stunning lack of transparency thus far, and that must change immediately… I urge the Administration to aggressively and expeditiously investigate what is causing this outbreak to prevent further illnesses and deaths. As E. coli continues to threaten American families, FDA has much more work to do to ensure that our food is properly inspected before it is sold in stores.”
But despite the warnings and the hype, many Americans were still concerned that the outbreak being linked to romaine lettuce was a rumor. Snopes, a website dedicated to busting myths and fact checking viral content, confirmed to its fans that the claim of Romaine lettuce linked to a winter 2017 E. coli outbreak was indeed true. The website notes that:
“Perhaps because of the alarming nature of the story, readers asked whether it was true that health officials have issued a warning against eating romaine lettuce. Although U.S. officials are investigating the outbreak they have not yet issued any official warnings against eating the leafy green food, Consumer Reports is following the lead of Canadian health officials and cautioning Americans to avoid romaine lettuce for the time being…”
Experts and Others Warn of the Dangers of E. coli
Food experts have come forward in light of this outbreak to remind the public of the dangers of this particular type of E. coli infection. Assistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Connecticut John Bovay commented in a recent article, “Some strains of E. coli bacteria produce toxins that can make us sick. When fresh fruit or vegetables become contaminated with one of these forms of E. coli, it can cause numerous illnesses all across the country because fruit and vegetables are shipped thousands of miles and are rarely cooked to a temperature that would kill E. coli.”
As to whether you should eat romaine lettuce, there are mixed views there too. University of California Food Safety Expert Trevor Suslow told The Fresno Bee, “it’s unlikely the lettuce you buy at the grocery store these days is going to do you any harm.”
Foodborne illness lawyers, however, recommend to heed caution and avoid romaine. E. coli lawyer Jory Lange advises the old adage, “When it doubt, throw it out.”
Unsafefoods is providing continuing coverage on this outbreak and any potential recalls. The CDC reports that they will have additional news in the coming two weeks.