Avoiding Contaminated Food Products

Written By Robin Jabour

E. coli Break Out Affects Pennsylvania

Recent reports of an E. coli outbreak from romaine lettuce has caused salad eaters throughout the U.S. to reconsider their lunch selections. To date, the bacteria has affected 60 people in 15 states, including Pennsylvania. Illnesses from lettuce or salads contaminated with E.coli can be very serious, causing kidney damage and other injuries, including death.

Steps to Avoid the E. coli Breakout

So, what is a healthy eater to do?  First, steer clear of romaine lettuce for the time being. It is suspected that the contamination stems from locations in the Yuma, Arizona area.  Published reports reveal that 90% of romaine grown in the U.S. between November and March is grown in Yuma, Arizona. Since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have not yet pinpointed the exact location of the contamination, it should be assumed that any romaine lettuce could be contaminated.

It is important to note that if your lettuce is contaminated with bacteria, it will make you sick even if it is “pre-washed” or even if you wash it.  The CDC has said it is impossible for contaminated lettuce to be washed long enough or well enough to ensure all bacteria is removed. One of the only ways to ensure E. coli is removed from affected lettuce is to cook it.  Cooked salads?  Probably not a crowd favorite.

Second, choose a healthy alternative to romaine lettuce. Other leafy greens such as arugula, chard, kale or spinach have not been reported to have been affected by the recent outbreak. Washing these greens thoroughly and consuming them in salads instead of romaine should minimize the risk of infection.

Third, be aware of the symptoms of E.coli and seek medical care immediately if you feel ill beyond an “ordinary” stomach illness. Fever, stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of E. coli and these symptoms can last for more than a few days.  Supportive medical care including IV fluids may be required until the bacteria has run its course through the body.

What to Do if you are Harmed by the E. coli Breakout

In the event that serious harm or death is attributable to affected romaine lettuce, a consumer is not without legal recourse. Recently, a consumer brought a civil action against a national restaurant chain as well as the supplier of contaminated lettuce. The consumer suffered kidney damage as a result of an E. coli infection. It was alleged that the romaine lettuce used by the restaurant was the source of the infection.  Much the same way as a seller of a product may be liable for an injury a defective product causes, so too might the seller of a contaminated food product be responsible for illnesses caused by consumption of tainted food.