It seems that romaine lettuce is in the news quite frequently these days. Over the past few years, E. coli contamination has plagued the leafy green vegetable, even prompting the FDA to encourage all romaine lettuce in the United States to be thrown out in 2018.
Why does this keep happening? And is romaine lettuce safe for you and your family? Read on to find out more about E. coli in romaine lettuce and whether or not you should be clearing out your vegetable drawer.
The Source of the Contamination
One problem with the romaine lettuce issue — and one of the reasons why it keeps happening — is that it’s not entirely clear where the contamination is coming from.
Most romaine lettuce sold in the U.S. comes from two growing areas: the Salinas Valley in California and the Yuma, Arizona growing region. It’s suspected that contaminated agricultural water in these areas is what leads to the outbreaks. And seasonal factors might play a role: E. coli is carried naturally in cattle, deer, goats, and feral pigs, and these animals may transmit the bacteria more during certain times of the year (fall, in particular).
Another problem is that romaine lettuce, or any type of lettuce for that matter, isn’t typically cooked. It’s simply eaten raw. If a strain of E. coli is found in meat, it’s probably killed off when the meat is heated for cooking. But that step doesn’t happen with lettuce, which is one of the reasons the contamination can spread.
Is Romaine Lettuce Safe?
So, is romaine lettuce safe to eat? For the most part, yes. The FDA advises consumers that romaine lettuce grown outside four Salinas-area counties (Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Benito) is safe to eat, as is hydroponically grown lettuce. And improvements in labeling and tracking technology has made it possible to trace the contamination back to a single region. So it’s likely that the lettuce you’ll purchase at your local store has been completely vetted for safety. Still, you’ll want to try to confirm where the lettuce came from before purchasing.
What Are Some Alternative Options?
Of course, another option is to avoid romaine lettuce entirely and opt for another healthy leafy vegetable. Kale contains all sorts of beneficial nutrients; collard greens are rich in Vitamin K, carbohydrates, and protein, making them perfect for a post-workout snack. And arugula is a tasty veggie jam-packed with vitamins and minerals to boost your health.
We’ll just have to wait and see if the E. coli contamination problem continues to plague romaine lettuce. In the meantime, be careful about what you buy — and consider some delicious and nutritious alternatives.