Romaine lettuce-linked E. coli outbreak reported in nearby states, local businesses taking precautions

ST. GEORGE — In a repeat of a similar scare last year, some stocks of romaine lettuce have been recalled by the Food and Drug Administration for E. coli bacteria.

While Utah is not among the 23 states where the contaminated lettuce was distributed, or where illnesses have been reported, the FDA is still warning consumers to avoid any romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, California.

Nevertheless, restaurants and grocery stores in Southern Utah have already taken precautions. 

“We were alerted from all of our supply houses. We check our location codes. We take action,” said Dave Johnson, manager of the Pizza Factory Express on Sunset Boulevard in St. George.

He added his restaurant has discontinued using romaine lettuce altogether and replaced it with green leaf lettuce, which he said is heartier and more nutritious. 

The FDA said consumers should not eat romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California or eat romaine if it is uncertain where the lettuce was harvested. Current federal regulations make the labeling of the harvesting region for romaine lettuce voluntary. 

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Manjurul/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

It is also recommended when ordering salad containing romaine at a restaurant or at a salad bar that staff should be asked whether the romaine came from Salinas.  

In addition, consumers have been told not to eat packages of Fresh Express branded Sunflower Crisp and Leafy Green Romaine chopped salad kits with packaging indicating harvesting from Salinas and a best before date up to and including Dec. 7. 

“Given the repeat nature of these outbreaks linked to leafy greens – and more specifically to romaine lettuce – it’s critical that everyone across the romaine supply chain do everything possible to fully understand why and how these outbreaks keep happening and continue to aggressively implement preventive measures to further protect consumers,” FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas said in a statement.

The latest scare comes nearly a year to the day after a similar outbreak attributed to romaine lettuce prompted recalls in November 2018.

A produce manager at a St. George supermarket, who asked to remain anonymous, said they have had to remove items from the shelf and made sure to direct customers to strands of romaine considered safe.

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EfsunKutlay/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

While local merchants have taken steps, traveling Utahns are still at risk of either eating contaminated lettuce out of state or transporting it over state lines. Among surrounding states, California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico have all reported illnesses attributed to the contaminated Salinas romaine lettuce. 

Thus far, 102 illnesses nationwide have been attributed to the latest outbreak. No fatalities have been reported.

According to the FDA, E. coli infections can manifest as many as nine days after initially eating infected food, with symptoms that include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever and nausea and/or vomiting. E. coli infections can be more severe for those under the age of five and adults older than 65.

It is recommended that those experiencing such symptoms go to a health care provider, record what they ate in the last week and report the illness to the health department. The Southwest Utah Public Health Department can be reached at 435-673-3528.

Even in the midst of an outbreak, not all romaine lettuce is contaminated or off-limits. 

“I haven’t personally quit eating romaine, “ Johnson said. “You just have to be aware.” 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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