The CDC said Monday that the E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce is linked to growing regions near Northern and Central California, but didn’t expand on which specific counties.
“If you have romaine lettuce and you don’t know where it comes from, you should throw it out,” said Ann McDowell, an epidemiologist at San Luis Obispo County Public Health.
Simply washing the lettuce isn’t a suitable fix.
“If the water that’s been irrigating the fields has been contaminated by animal feces or the fields have been contaminated by animal feces, the plants themselves can take up the E. coli into their internal structure which is why just washing lettuce will not make it safe,” McDowell added.
Grocers are receiving letters from produce companies saying they’re not linked to the outbreak. California Fresh Market isn’t taking any chances, though. Workers pulled anything containing romaine off the shelves. Other leafy greens, like spinach, are selling fast as a result.
“I wouldn’t buy it in a regular store because you don’t know where it’s coming from but because we know where it’s coming from, I’m not concerned about it,” said Nikki Pool, a Nipomo resident who is opting for local farms for produce instead of big chains. “It’s hard to tell where our food comes from. It’s mass-moved and produced so buying locally, in my opinion, is the safest and most efficient way to get healthy food.”
It’ll soon be easier to track the source of an E. coli outbreak. Produce companies are now required to label their product with a harvest location.
“Growers are highly motivated to make sure that their product is identified as safe to consume so they’re going to want to comply with these requirements,” McDowell said.
If you have romaine lettuce and it’s harvested in an area outside of Northern or Central California, the CDC says it should be okay to eat.
The outbreak has not been declared over, though. Dozens of people have been hospitalized with infections linked to eating romaine. No illnesses linked to eating romaine have been confirmed on the Central Coast.