Monday, December 3, 2018

Romaine returns: what you should know

Karla Salp

Romaine lettuce will soon be back on supermarket shelves.
Caesar salad lovers everywhere will soon be celebrating romaine lettuce’s return to local produce shelves. But with repeated recalls over the last several months, you may still have lingering concerns about buying romaine and other leafy greens. Here’s some food for thought.

What happened? 

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a food safety alert about romaine lettuce linked to a multi-state E. coli outbreak. The alert called on stores to remove all romaine lettuce from the shelves and warned the public against buying or eating any romaine.

Investigations subsequently identified the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California as the likely source of romaine lettuce that sickened 43 people. At this point, no common grower, distributor, or brand has been identified.

This week, CDC lifted its food safety alert for all lettuce, except romaine grown in the Central Coast region of California, where the romaine harvest is already over for the year.

What about Washington lettuce? 

If you are sure you are buying Washington-grown romaine lettuce, you can purchase it knowing our state is not believed to be part of the outbreak.

Can I eat lettuce from other states?


Romaine lettuce from the growing areas near Yuma, Arizona or Imperial County and Riverside County in California; the state of Florida; and Mexico is not linked to this outbreak.  Romaine that has been grown indoors has not been associated with the outbreak.

Romaine returning to the shelves should be labeled with a harvest location and date.

If you aren’t sure where the romaine lettuce was harvested, the CDC still recommends against eating it.

Is produce contamination only a problem on big farms? 


Although consumers can become ill from food grown on large or small farms, there are many safeguards in place to help protect consumers. Federal regulations require large farms to adopt practices that prevent the spread of foodborne illness – particularly in foods that are consumed raw, like lettuce. While farms defined as “very small” are not required to comply with these regulations, many take training and employ food safety practices anyway.

What is WSDA doing to keep Washington produce safe to eat?

In 2016, WSDA started a new Produce Safety Program to focus on providing training and education in partnership with Washington State University about how to improve produce safety on farms as well as comply with federal regulations. Here are upcoming trainings in Washington:
Yakima – 12/6 (FULL)
Tacoma – 1/29/19
Anacortes – 2/19/2019
Richland – 3/6/19

WSDA also offers a free, educational farm visits, called On-Farm Readiness Reviews, to help farms prepare for compliance with produce safety inspections that will begin next year.

What can I do improve the safety of the raw vegetables I eat? 

Here are tips from the CDC to reduce your risk from eating raw fruits and vegetables:

Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
Clean fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
Keep fruits and vegetables separate from raw foods from animals, such as meat, poultry, and seafood.
Refrigerate fruits and vegetables you have cut, peeled, or cooked within 2 hours.
It is important to remember that eating produce provides many health benefits. Growers, processors, and the government take food safety seriously. You can help by taking simple steps like properly cooking and washing your produce to further reduce even the minimal risk that fresh produce presents.