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09/01/18: Washing Produce Won’t Remove E. Coli Bacteria

1955931_romaine-lettuce-750x500The latest E. Coli outbreak has killed at least two people and sickened more than 50 in the U.S. and Canada. Canadian health officials linked the deadly E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce.

However, U.S. officials are still investigating and have not named a specific source yet. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, most of the patients reported eating romaine lettuce before they became ill.

The agency shared with The New York Times that, “Individuals reported eating romaine lettuce at home, as well as in prepared salads purchased at grocery stores, restaurants and fast food chains.”

How To Stay Safe

There has been no official product recalls in the U.S. yet, so you may have contaminated produce in your refrigerator right now.

Generally, lettuce is more vulnerable to bacterial contamination than other produce. Specifically, Consumer Reports says consumers should avoid romaine lettuce.

That includes any organic and conventional romaine lettuce, as well as pre-made salads containing it.

Unfortunately, even washing your lettuce isn’t enough.

“It is very difficult to remove bacteria from leafy greens,” James Rogers, Ph.D., director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports says.

“Bacteria have the ability to adhere to the surface of the leaves, and to get stuck in microscopic crevices.” E. coli has unique survival tactics that make it impossible to wash away.

It produces a protective biofilm that encases the bacteria and helps it adhere to a surface. Also, E. coli can penetrate into produce, burrowing below the surface.

Cool running water and vinegar solutions can reduce, but not completely eliminate, bacteria.

“Solutions designed to wash produce have not shown any advantage of reducing pathogens on produce over using cool running water,” Shelley Feist, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education in Washington, told WebMD.

The only way effective way to eradicate E. coli is cooking the produce. Since romaine lettuce can’t take the heat, that’s not a good option.

Symptoms Of Those Who Have Ingested E. Coli

If you do eat contaminated produce, common symptoms include fever, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. That’s definitely not a pleasant way to start the New Year.

While we’re waiting for official product recalls, opt for these healthy lunches instead of a potentially sickening salad.

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