Update as of Jan. 26, 2018: Commence eating salads! Full update at bottom.
If your New Year’s resolution included “eat more greens,” you may still want to avoid romaine lettuce: Following an E. coli outbreak, Consumer Reports is advising people to toss all romaine lettuce from their refrigerators as a precautionary measure until the source of the contamination is determined.
“Consumer Reports says consumers should assume that any romaine lettuce, even when sold in bags and packages, could possibly be contaminated,” a spokesperson for the independent, nonprofit organization says. “Do not buy romaine lettuce and don’t use any that you may have in your refrigerator until there is more information on the source of contamination. Consumers should also check salad blends and mixes, and avoid those that contain romaine.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest statement on the E. coli outbreak on Dec. 28, 17 illnesses were reported across 13 states with additional incidents in Canada. One of the cases reported between Nov. 15 and Dec. 8 proved fatal.
Although health officials in Canada determined romaine lettuce was the source of contamination, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration are not yet coming out as hard against the leafy greens as Consumer Reports.
“Because we have not identified a source of the infections, CDC is unable to recommend whether U.S. residents should avoid a particular food,” a spokesperson for the CDC told NBC News.
A joint statement from the United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association and other groups also recommends calm:
“Even if this outbreak is actually confirmed to be caused by romaine lettuce, it’s important to recognize this is a highly perishable product with a limited usable shelf life and it’s highly unlikely a specific affected lot would still be available for sale or in a home refrigerator with the last U.S. illness being reported on December 8 and the last Canadian illness reported December 12.”
Nonetheless, Consumer Reports and Consumers Union notes romaine lettuce is more prone to passing along illness because it is eaten raw.
“The FDA should follow the lead of the Canadian government and immediately warn the public about this risk,” says Consumers Union’s Jean Halloran. “The available data strongly suggest that romaine lettuce is the source of the U.S. outbreak. If so, and people aren’t warned, more may get sick.”
There are an estimated 265,000 E. coli infections in the United States annually. Most people can recover with rest and hydration, although young children and older adults are more at risk for serious complications.
According to the CDC, the best ways to prevent E. coli infection include regularly washing your hands, cooking meat thoroughly, avoiding raw milk or juice products and preventing cross contamination when cooking.
Update as of Jan. 26, 2018
The CDC announced this week that the E. coli outbreak tied to romaine lettuce “appears to be over,” as the most recently reported illness was on Dec. 12, 2017. Because of the short shelf life of romaine, lettuce now available isn’t believed to be a risk.