Did You Eat Romaine? Here Are Answers to All Your E. coli Questions
Last Friday the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration sent an update regarding what is now the worst outbreak of E. coli food poisoning in more than a decade.
The number of affected people has risen to 98 in 22 different states across the nation—and what's more troubling, the outbreak is sending an unusually high percentage of people to the hospital.
Over the last few weeks, we've been updating you about the outbreak, and many of you have posted your own questions back to us. So we scoured your posts to find the most pertinent concerns, and are bringing you our best answers:
Doreen Paul: Where are these products coming from?
The FDA says it's still unsure of where exactly the E. coli outbreak began for a majority of the nearly 100 cases that have popped up across the nation. All we know for sure is that the romaine lettuce causing the outbreak was grown and harvested from the Yuma, Arizona region. Thankfully, the growing season in Yuma is now over, and while there may be more people who don't yet know they're sick (see below), the worst of this may be over.
Last week, reports were published linking a local Yuma operation known as Harrison Farms to the lettuce that caused eight individuals to fall ill in the Nome, Alaska region—but that leaves 90 or more cases still unsolved. According to the Los Angeles Times, health officials are still investigating dozens of other producers in the region to determine where the rest of the affected romaine heads came from.
We'll update this post should investigators release new information.
Barbara Dee Buchanan Graham: I ate salad at a popular restaurant and was sick 11 hours soon afterwards. Could I have had this?
There are a slew of symptoms that indicate you could have eaten lettuce affected by the specific variant of E. coli. The infectious virus causes diarrhea, intense stomach cramps, and heavy vomiting, and the CDC says that it takes anywhere from two to eight days for side effects of E. coli poisoning to kick in.
If you are at all concerned, you should definitely reach out to your healthcare provider to be safe—but there's a difference between E. coli sickness and more acute food poisoning, as well as other illnesses. We break down the differences between the two right here.
Karla Cintron: Is there a specific brand detected [to have] the E. coli?
As we mention above, investigators have been unable to pinpoint which producer or producers (besides one) are responsible. Unfortunately, romaine lettuce is often sold with different marketed names and packaging, and it isn't always clear on where the product came from.
The fact that many grocery stores and supermarkets will rebrand romaine lettuce purchased from third-party growers has led the FDA and CDC to ask customers to stop eating romaine lettuce altogether.
There hasn't been one brand identified in the outbreak, and unless you can clearly identify where exactly your romaine lettuce came from (i.e.: your own garden), health officials are asking you to stay away from the crunchy green until further notice.
Faith Hoffman: There was plenty of romaine (organic) and chopped bagged for sale at H-E-B (in Texas) today. Surely they've vetted it?
Following the sweeping ban from both the CDC and the FDA, many supermarkets—at both a local and national level—pulled romaine from shelves in order to avoid any shoppers becoming ill. A few weeks have passed since the initial announcement of the outbreak, and many grocery stores have taken it upon themselves to conduct internal reviews to ensure the romaine being offered in stores does not come from the Yuma region.
We've asked one of our writers to investigate the steps national supermarkets are taking to make their lettuce safe for shoppers, and we'll post more information, as well as a link to the new report, later this week.
As far as farmer's markets go, it's difficult to say. The New York Times reports that smaller farms are not subject to the same strict health regulations that larger farms have. However, if you know and trust your local farmer, and can be certain the lettuce is fresh and local (and not from Yuma) it's probably okay.
Katelyn Johnson: Anyone know if this is also in Canada?
Strangely enough, a widespread E. coli outbreak did indeed lead to more than 40 individuals getting sick in Canada earlier this year—and it was in fact due to contaminated romaine lettuce, officials concluded. While this particular outbreak linked to Arizona growers has not affected any shoppers in Canada just yet, the striking similarities of the outbreaks are pushing officials to consider a growing tide of voices calling for sweeping food safety reform.