Romaine lettuce throughout the United States has been recalled following an E. coli outbreak linked to the sicknesses of at least 32 people, 13 of whom had to be hospitalized.
“The CDC has taken this very, very seriously," Dr. William Schaffner, an infections diseases expert and professor at Vanderbilt University, said. "They’re working with the Food and Drug Administration to find out what the source of this contamination is, which they don’t know yet, but in the meantime, the public health message is: Do not eat romaine lettuce. Don’t buy it, check your refrigerator. If you have it, throw it out, wash your hands, and sanitize where it was in your refrigerator.”
There have been no illnesses reported in Tennessee due to the E. coli outbreak, but Schaffner said it's much better to be safe than sorry.
“This is a bug that can not only cause an intestinal illness with diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramps, etc, but, subsequently can also cause, on occasion, a serious kidney illness. It can result in kidney failure, some of those patients needing dialysis," Schaffner explained.
Grocery stores have removed romaine lettuce from their floors and restaurants have removed the lettuce from menu items, making them change their menu.
Schaffner said the CDC is working diligently to find the source of the contaminated romaine, and once they find it, they'll investigate why it happened in the first place.
“Part of the CDC question is: What is it about Romaine farms, management, and distribution systems that’s different than other leafy vegetables, for example," Schaffner said. "That’s part of the disease detectives doing their work.”
Schaffner said many may believe that more recalls are being issued, and that's largely because it's true.
“We have more scientific ways that we can detect contaminated food stuffs than we ever had before," Schaffner said, adding that those scientific methods allow food officials to identify more issues in food.
There's also the change in agriculture where more foods are being mass produced from the same location.
“Agriculture has become less local and more national, and indeed global, so you have nationwide or large areas of the country with distribution of food stuffs," Schaffner explained.
While romaine has been recalled, many have been encouraged to also through out any mixed greens they have, as many packages of mixed greens include romaine lettuce.