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Romaine lettuce mostly safe again – as long as you know where it’s from

November 29, 2018

The FDA has relaxed its stance on romaine lettuce, and area businesses are bouncing back.

During the weekend, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control announced that U.S. consumers and producers can eat romaine lettuce again – as long as the greens were not grown in the Central Coastal growing regions in northern and central California.

The announcement came days after a multi-state E. coli investigation linked romaine lettuce to 43 confirmed cases of the foodborne illness in 12 states. Sixteen of those cases led to hospitalizations.

No common brand or supplier of lettuce was identified.

Retailers and customers were encouraged to throw away heads of romaine, as well as bags and boxes of precut salad mixes.

On Tuesday, Hy-Vee Barlow produce manager Brady Brolsma said last year’s E. coli outbreak linked to lettuce (which took place in November and December of 2017) let them know what to expect.

“Things are pretty much back to normal here,” he said. “A lot of people knew about it, but I didn’t get too many questions.”

Brolsma estimated that it would take about a week for suppliers to begin distributing lettuce from safe growers.

Salad Brothers owner Muharem Dedic said his restaurant in the Shops at University Square pitched one of its four salad mixes and started working with suppliers for “organic, green” produce shortly after the announcement.

Caesar salad production has been down, he said, but it’s far better to play it safe than risk selling contaminated greens.

“It’s a big demand,” he said. “So I hope I can get some in soon.”

Salad Bros’ suppliers don’t label the greens clearly with the growing region, a necessary step for gauging the risk of eating romaine lettuce.

“Maybe they, U.S. foods, know directly, but we don’t,” he said.

According to the FDA announcement, romaine lettuce currently entering the market should have a harvest location and date marked on all packaging. If it does not, consumers should not buy the romaine.

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