Over 50 cases of E.coli bacteria poisoning have appeared in the last few weeks in Canada and 13 US states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington). In some of these cases, the victim has had to go to hospital for treatment. Experts who have been tracking the outbreak suspect that it stems from people eating improperly washed romaine lettuce.
E.coli poisoning is not something that you want to take lightly. It can cause a range of nasty symptoms, like stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, these symptoms can appear anywhere from 1-10 days after eating tainted food. Most people will get better after a really unpleasant 5-7 days, but others will need to be hospitalized. The condition can be life-threatening in some cases.
So why lettuce, and how is it linked to E.coli? This is where it’s about to get gross. The bacteria can wind up on the lettuce leaves in a couple of ways. Firstly, they can be spread from manure used to fertilize the soil the plants grow in. Secondly, the lettuce can become contaminated if someone goes to the bathroom, doesn’t wash their hands, and then handles the produce.
The same thing that makes romaine so delicious is what also increases the risk. Cooking would kill the harmful bacteria, but lettuce is eaten raw, when it’s most crisp. Washing it carefully before eating it does help to remove E.coli, but it can be difficult to wash properly due to all the nooks and crannies. For this reason, just to be on the safe side, experts at Consumer Reports advise us to avoid romaine lettuce until the root of this problem can be identified and eliminated.
So, if you have some of this lettuce at home, go ahead and toss it in the trash. If you’re eating out, avoid anything with romaine in it until experts have told us it’s okay again. It’s just not worth the risk.