This isn’t a good time to have all your money tied up in romaine lettuce stocks.
Let’s start with the blunt directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Do not eat romaine lettuce. Period. Full stop.
The warning comes after an outbreak of E. coli made 32 people sick in 11 states and Canada last month. No deaths have been reported but 13 people were sick enough to be hospitalized and one developed kidney failure. A third of the cases were reported in California and most of the others have been in the Great Lakes region and the northeastern U.S. as well as Ontario and Quebec.
But that doesn’t mean you’re safe if you bought your lettuce in Florida. Despite the trend for local sourcing, a lot of our food still comes from far away, and exact provenance is difficult to determine.
Don’t take any chances. If you have romaine lettuce in your refrigerator, throw it out. The lettuce, not the refrigerator, but you’re going to want to sanitize the bin it was stored in. Have a lettuce mix that might have bits of romaine in it? Throw that out, too. Even if you’ve already eaten some and haven’t gotten sick — although most people start feeling ill three to four days after consuming the bacteria, illness can occur anywhere between one to 10 days.
Here’s a link to the C.D.C.’s Food Safety Alert
Needless to say, restaurants are also affected, and indeed most people who consume romaine lettuce usually do so in a restaurant — no Caesar salads for a while.
Steve Gunter, who operates the Tap Room at Dubsdread said Wednesday, “We have stopped serving any Rromaine in any level. Even though it only affects certain lots from certain places we aren’t taking any chances. Not worth it.”
Soco’s Greg Richie said, “We tossed it all to be safe. We’re using hydro Bibb in the meantime.”
If you’re dining out soon, don’t take for granted that the restaurateur knows about directive from the C.D.C. Question what types of lettuces are being used — good time to test the server’s menu knowledge — and if romaine is mentioned, be sure it has been discarded and the proper sanitizing procedures have been applied.
And just to make your Thanksgiving dinner a little more fraught with worry, consider that for the past year the C.D.C. and the Department of Agriculture have been tracking an outbreak of Salmonella linked to raw turkey products. So be extra careful when handling your turkey Thursday.
Here’s a tip that has recently been advised for handling poultry: Don’t try rinsing it in the sink before you prepare it and shove it in the oven. Although it sounds counterintuitive, washing the bird, it’s believed, can actually spread pathogens through your kitchen as the water splashes off of it. Just season it, stuff it — usual warnings apply there — and put it in the oven; the heat will kill the bacteria.
Thorough hand-washing should follow. And you’re just going to have to forget that recipe for turkey carpaccio.