Where did all the romaine lettuce go? I can’t remember a time before when I walked through any given grocery store and noticed that all the bags of salad, pre-made salads, even some sandwiches were not in stock. The CDC issued a notice of a multistate outbreak of E. Coli linked directly to chopped romaine lettuce.
Forty-three people have been documented with Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli, twelve of which have been hospitalized. Subsequently, the CDC had requested the immediate stoppage of sale for any Romaine Lettuce while they continue to investigate the origin of this particular outbreak.
What measures are put into place to control outbreaks from spreading?
- Cleaning and disinfecting food facilities
- Temporarily closing a restaurant or processing plant
- Recalling food items
- Communicating to the public how to make the food safe (such as cooking to a certain temperature) or to avoid it completely
- Telling consumers to throw away the suspect food from their pantry or refrigerator
Lettuce Dig Deeper
We often look to grocery stores, food suppliers and restaurants to tighten their standards to protect us from harm but when was the last time your refrigerator got a deep cleaning? According to most manufacturer’s, a thorough cleaning should be performed every three months or more. Here’s how:
- Remove everything from the fridge and put perishables in a cooler with some ice.
- Take a look at all of your condiments and toss them if they’re past the “use by” date.
- Remove the meat and vegetable drawers. Soak them in a bathtub or sink full of warm sudsy water.
- While the drawers are soaking, wipe down the inside of the fridge, the door panels, the top of the fridge and the seals. Make a good cleaning solution with 2 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 quart (about 1 liter) of hot water.
- Rinse everything you wiped down with a wet, clean cloth.
- Rinse the vegetable and meat drawers with warm water, dry them and put them back into the fridge.
Don’t forget to check expiration dates on products too. The collection of salad dressing you have from last summer’s barbecue may have turned by now. “Sell-by”, “Best if used by” and “use-by” have similar, but slightly different meanings. “Sell-by” is geared more toward the retailer. Indicating to them when they should rotate product off the shelves. “Best if used by” is an indicator of quality (the food will not be “bad” after that date) and “use-by” is the last day the manufacturer recommends using the product based on quality, not safety.
- Eggs typically are good for up to 3 weeks after their sell by date
- Chicken is usually up to 1-2 days after sell by date
- Chopped or loose lettuce lasts about 3-5 days after printed date
All Eyes on the Golden State
Recently the investigation of romaine lettuce has narrowed its focus to specifically the state of California. The CDC is now requiring that all Romaine lettuce be packaged with labels that specifically identify its origin, so issues can be traced quickly back to its source through the supply chain and as consumers we can expect similar measures to be put in place for other potentially “high risk” products.