PSA: Why You Should Be Avoiding Romaine Lettuce Right Now

Consumer Reports warn that the lettuce green might be behind an international outbreak.

By Ethan L. Johns
January 05, 2018

Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We’re sorry to have to say it, but you might want to lay off the romaine lettuce for a while. It’s not going to be easy, we know. But it might just save you from a whole lot of sickness.

Over the past two months, 58 people in the United States and Canada have become sick with E. coli, many reportedly after eating romaine lettuce. Though the FDA has yet to identify romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak, the Canadian government and its Public Health Agency have warned consumers to avoid the green in order to prevent further infection. In the same vein, US consumer advocate Consumer Reports is advising all Americans to abstain from eating romaine until the source is identified and all infected products have been removed from the shelves.

While washing lettuce can improve the safety of lettuces and other greens, it is not guaranteed to remove all traces. Residual E. coli can lead to serious illness and even death in weaker individuals (like children, seniors and those with other medical conditions). So far, five people have been hospitalized in the US and two have died—one in the US and one in Canada.

Cutting back on romaine will not be an easy task in the US— seeing as it’s the country’s favorite lettuce. In 2017, 43.2 percent of all lettuce consumed in the US was romaine lettuce, rivaled only by iceberg lettuce, which captured 37.3 percent of the market share.

Yet, there are so many great leafy greens out there to try! Bibb (or Boston) lettuce is common with its super-light and soft leaves. Red and green leaf lettuces add a bit of ruffle and a whole lot of color variety. Mâche (lamb’s lettuce) is delicate and nutty and perfect for salads, while frisée, endives and radicchio add a hint of bitterness. For the foragers and adventurous, dandelion greens are completely edible, too. Then, of course, you’ve got your kales, collards and cabbages for some deep flavor. Think of this as a golden opportunity to expand your palate.

Need some no-romaine recipe alternatives? Try an endive and radicchio salad with blue cheese, apples, and candied walnuts. Or make like Popeye the sailor man and go for the spinach salad with honey bacon dressing. Potato salad might scream summer, but potatoes are still fresh from this year’s harvest, so get busy with one of our most popular creamy potato salad recipes.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns