Lettuce Producers Prepare Labeling Changes in Response to New E. Coli Outbreak

Lettuce Producers Prepare Labeling Changes in Response to New E. Coli Outbreak
Is it safe to eat romaine lettuce yet? Here are latest details about E. coli outbreak
Major U.S. lettuce producers are preparing to change how they label romaine lettuce as the latest E. coli outbreak shuts down the market for the leafy salad green.

Lettuce producers, including Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Taylor Farms and Fresh Express Inc., sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Sunday, promising to adapt labels on romaine lettuce to include where the lettuce was grown and when it was harvested.

No, restaurants: Its not safe to serve romaine

Right now, the CDC has issued this warning, and this comes on the heels of an earlier outbreak and recall of romaine lettuce this spring. Until such a time that they find the true cause of the outbreak, you should not eat any romaine lettuce, food safety expert Darin Detwiler, director of the Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries program at Northeastern University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Ninety-six people were hospitalized (five of whom died) during the last outbreak in romaine lettuce, according to the CDC.

There is no way a server in a restaurant could know that their romaine lettuce is safe unless they cook it to a sufficient temperature and for a sufficient time, which I doubt many restaurants do, Felicia Wu, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. It is surprising that any restaurants are now serving romaine lettuce. After all, this E. coli outbreak has sickened people in multiple states, and CDC has not traced the bacterial contamination to just one source; it applies to all romaine lettuce sold around the country.

If you happen to visit a restaurant that tries to claim its romaine is safe, its really best to avoid the food. I would send it back, Benjamin Chapman, an assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. When the CDC comes out with a message that says Dont eat romaine lettuce, you should heed that advice, he says. Right now, we dont have any indication that its romaine from any certain part of the country or a certain company. Its a standing blanket statement.

You have to say that its not a risk youre willing to take, Detwiler says. You as the consumer have the voting power with your dollar to say that my health and the health of my family is more important than someone trying to make excuses to continue to sell this.

If youre served something with romaine lettuce in it, you dont want to remove the lettuce and eat everything else, Wu says. If the dish contains (uncooked) romaine lettuce, it should be sent back or thrown out, she says. If it is infected with E. coli, it can cross-contaminate other foods.

And, if youre not sure if the leafy green youre served is actually romaine, ask. They should be able to say yes or no, Detwiler says. Then, you go from there.

As for whether you should avoid leafy greens altogether, its up to you. If you feel comfortable enough that you can tell your romaine from your iceberg (a common substitute), then youre probably OK. The CDC has called out romaine — they didnt call out any other kind of lettuce or leafy green, Detwiler says. Wu agrees: Other leafy greens are not currently implicated in the E. coli outbreak, so until further notice it should be safe to consume these, she says.

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