The Thanksgiving salad can be a welcome blessing. Although never the the star of the table, its raw leaves are the antidote when you’re beaten down by heavy piles of stuffing and butter-whipped potatoes.
But if you were pining for your Thanksgiving salad—a classic Caesar, maybe, with a bed of crisp romaine—you might as well put those dreams to bed, or find a recipe that’s based on iceberg instead.
As of yesterday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert for consumers, restaurants, and retailers to not eat or serve any romaine lettuce. That includes bunches of romaine and any salad mixes that could contain romaine. Basically, unless you’re 100 percent sure that it doesn’t have romaine, the CDC says you shouldn’t eat it. And if you’ve so much as had romaine in your fridge recently, they recommend cleaning and sanitizing those areas. (Go ahead and wipe down whole fridge while you're at it—that's not a CDC recommendation, we just know that most people are a little lax on fridge cleanliness.)
It might sound like a lot, but the sweeping statement follows an outbreak of Escherichia coli that’s popped up in multiple states. Since the CDC hasn’t yet isolated a specific grower or brand, it’s best to swear off the crunchy green entirely, for now. As of publication, they report that 32 people in 11 states, and 18 in Canada, have been infected with E. coli, and specifically, the strain E. coli O157:H7.
The strain—typically the one in question when you hear about E. coli outbreaks—is particularly problematic because of its ability to produce Shiga toxin, which has been called “one of the most potent bacterial toxins known.” Infection from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can range from mild to life-threatening, often including painful stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.
Romaine is no stranger to E. coli issues. As reported by the Morning Call, it’s been tied to several outbreaks just this year. In fact, a 2017 report from the CDC estimated that more than 75 percent of E. coli O157 infections were linked to beef and “vegetable row crops,” a category that includes leafy greens.
This happens, apparently, because of contamination during growing and packaging, according to the Washington Post. As convenience steers more consumers toward packaged greens, salad leaves are exposed to more workers and equipment, thereby increasing opportunities for bad pathogens to glomb on.
At least now you’ll have a good excuse for not eating your greens on Thanksgiving. Or maybe just try a different kind of salad vegetable.