These are nervous days for salad enthusiasts. The green, beating heart of the American salad, romaine lettuce, has been ripped from shelves and refrigerators at the insistence of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to a small but potentially serious outbreak.
On Friday the same agency that has long urged people to eat more leafy greens issued an alert to Americans: “Do not buy or eat romaine lettuce at a grocery store or restaurant unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.”
This is not always easy to do. The warning calls to mind the ongoing issue that most of us have no idea where our food comes from—a screed for another day. But for now, Yuma is the region to which officials have traced a potentially deadly E. coli fecal bacterial contamination in the supply chain.
Over the course of the past month, at least 70 cases have been reported to the CDC. None have yet proven deadly, but the potential is there. The contaminant is a notorious strain of E. coli known as O157:H7. This is the only strain of E. coli most doctors can name, and they take it seriously. So far the numbers are limited, and no deaths have been reported. But 31 people have been hospitalized, according to the CDC. Five of these have developed the most feared complication, known as hemolytic-uremic syndrome, in which a person’s immune system is triggered by the infection and inappropriately targets the body’s own red blood cells, leading to kidney failure and, potentially, death.