(Don’t) Eat Your Greens: Multistate Lettuce Outbreak Leads to Recall
If you’re looking for an excuse to avoid eating your veggies, you’re in luck! Thanks to a massive recall, eating your greens might actually do more harm than good.
The recall, which began in March, specifically concerns romaine lettuce from a growing area in Yuma, Arizona. The Yuma growing field produces most of the lettuce sold during this time of year, which is why the recall is so widespread. The fact that romaine lettuce is such a popular produce choice, appearing in everything from Caesar salads to taco garnishes, only makes the situation worse.
The cause of the recall? Escherichia coli, or E. coli, a bacterium that can lead to painful, uncomfortable, or even life-threatening symptoms. It occurs naturally in the intestines of humans and animals, where it plays an important role in the digestive process. However, certain strains of E. coli can cause health concerns. These strains, like E. coli O157-H7, may cause symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, and abdominal cramping or discomfort. While unpleasant, an E. coli infection is usually not fatal for most people. But for children, elderly people, or people with compromised immune system, E. coli can lead to serious health risks.
Much like the gastrointestinal symptoms, the way E. coli spreads is pretty unpleasant. Because E. coli is found in the digestive system, it spreads through contact with contaminated feces. For example, when cows are slaughtered, bacteria in their intestines can get into the meat and spread E. coli to humans. When it comes to produce, runoff from a nearby farm could cause contamination. It can also spread through contaminated water, and people could get sick from E. coli after drinking it or eating vegetables watered with contaminated water. In the case of the Yuma growing field, it’s likely that either runoff or contaminated water played a role.
As a result of the outbreak, 149 people in 29 states, including Florida, have fallen ill after consuming romaine lettuce. Half of these people ended up hospitalized, and one death was reported in California. The high number of illnesses across the country makes this the largest nationwide E. coli outbreak since 2006.
To prevent illnesses, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against eating romaine lettuce unless you can confirm it is not from the tainted region. If you can’t tell where the lettuce is from, the CDC recommends avoiding it. They also advise against mixed bags of salads that may contain unlabeled romaine lettuce.
Romaine lettuce isn’t the only troublemaker right now, either. Eggs produced at a facility in North Carolina have been linked to an outbreak of salmonella, another type of food poisoning caused by bacteria. The contaminated eggs have sickened 23 people in nine states, mostly on the east coast. There have been 11 hospitalizations as a result, but no deaths.
Like the CDC suggests, it’s better to throw out or return a product rather than push your luck during a recall! While it’s possible that your product might be fine, infections from bacteria like E. coli are anything but pleasant, so save your salads until after the recall.
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