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Stop! Throw It Out! Romaine Lettuce Is Back in the News

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

If it feels like déjà vu all over again, it is. Romaine lettuce is back in the news, with new warnings that it may be contaminated with E. coli, a bacterium that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps and even kidney failure. No deaths have been reported this time (yet), but according to CNN Health, 32 people, 13 of whom were hospitalized, have been stricken in 11 states.

The illnesses are also occurring in Canada.

While they’re not sure of the direct source of these illnesses, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is urging everyone to throw away any romaine lettuce you may have in your home, whether it’s whole heads, hearts or bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes — even if you’ve already eaten some and didn’t get sick.

These days it seems like not a week can go by without a food recall of some sort. If you need some staggering numbers, just between the years 2009 and 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 5,760 foodborne outbreaks, which resulted in 100,939 illnesses, 5,699 hospitalizations and 145 deaths.

Contaminated vegetables were responsible for 10 percent of these illnesses. When the other multistate E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce occurred this summer, all indications pointed toward runoff from a nearby factory farm into a canal used to irrigate the lettuce.

At the end of June, the CDC posted its final update, stating it had infected 210 people in 36 states, hospitalizing 96 (27 of whom developed kidney failure) and killing five.

And may I repeat: The FDA determined the source of this killer disease appears to be runoff from manure lagoons from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). What’s worse, it’s already been proven that CAFOs are a major source of water contamination throughout the U.S.

So, how can you keep yourself and your family safe from foodborne illness? Colorado State University offers the following guidelines:

  • Before handling and preparing produce, wash your hands with soap and water
  • Use separate cutting boards for meats and produce to avoid cross contamination
  • Store produce away from raw meats, poultry and seafood to prevent cross contamination in your fridge
  • Wait to wash your produce until you're ready to use it and then rinse it thoroughly.
  • To remove pesticide residues, you can use a baking soda bath, which has been shown to remove pesticides and other toxins from produce far more effectively than bleach.

These are all good suggestions but, in my opinion, your very best option is to grow your own food. Whether that be in a vegetable garden, in containers or in trays, you won't regret the time and energy you invest in cultivating healthy, homegrown food. Greens such as lettuce are among the easiest garden vegetables to grow, and they are prolific.

By planting new seeds every 10 days, you can receive multiple harvests throughout the growing season. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to grow certain greens year-round. To get started, see "How to Grow Your Own Food."

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