It’s not easy being green: E. coli outbreak causes teachers and students to purge their romaine lettuce

By Yaren Ozbay
Staff Writer

Following a recent E. coli outbreak, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced on Nov. 26 that it is safe to eat romaine lettuce again. The CDC was able to link the source of the bacteria to the central Coastal growing regions of northern and central California.

The outbreak began on Oct. 5 and ran through Nov. 16. As of Dec. 13, the CDC reported that 59 people across 15 states including Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania had were affected by the E. coli strain in contaminated romaine lettuce.

Biology teacher Dr. Dunn said restaurants throughout the country were impacted because they had to get rid of their entire supply of romaine lettuce. He said some business stocks also declined because no one wanted to eat at restaurants that may have served the contaminated lettuce.

Dunn said E. coli lives in human intestines and is spread by humans.

“When it’s in you, it’s healthy, but if you take it [by mouth], it causes disease and disorder,” Dunn said.

He said E. coli outbreaks occur when workers handle food with dirty hands or use unfiltered water. He said E. coli is the primary reason for food poisoning.

While Dunn said it rarely proves fatal, E. coli can result in a stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever.

“You might be miserable for two days, but you get over it,” Dunn said. “Most of us [are] healthy enough to [recover] within a week or two.”

He said young and old people are at the greatest risk of dying from E. coli because of the dehydration it causes.

Dunn said there are small steps people can take to prevent the spread of the bacteria.

“Wash your hands and face when you come home from school or work or any other activities,” Dunn said. “If you work at a restaurant, always wash your hands.”

Algebra and statistics teacher Mr. Carucci said he generally eats romaine lettuce once a week, but due to the outbreak, he had not consumed it in about a month.

Carucci said during an E. coli outbreak that affects romaine lettuce, people should avoid the food completely.

“Maybe shift to spinach, cucumbers [or] other greens that are healthy for you, but avoid [romaine] lettuce at all cost,” Carucci said.

He said he dealt with many emotions when he could not consume romaine lettuce.

“It was a cycle. I was initially saddened, then angry, then sad again. Then I accepted it, and now I’ve moved forward with my life,” Carucci said.

Senior Gabriella Borgono, who works at the Lucille Roberts gym in Clifton, said she generally eats romaine lettuce two or three times a week but did not eat it at all during the outbreak because she did not want to take the risk of contracting E. coli.

“Personally, it was a little bit harder for me to find some alternatives for my dinner for work because throwing a bag of salad in a container is what I’m used to, unless I’m feeling super fancy and actually want to take what my mom makes for dinner. Romaine is just easier for me because I don’t have to heat it up, and it’s a healthy option. Plus, I work at a gym,” Borgono said. “Eating pasta in front of 80 women running on a treadmill isn’t quite fitting, so romaine is always a go,” Borgono said.

She said a few days before she heard about the E. coli outbreak, she bought three bags of lettuce from ShopRite.

“ShopRite called my house to tell us about the recall, and I had to throw it all away,” Borgono said.

She said when the grocery store called, she was offered a refund on her purchase.

Even though the CDC announced that the E. coli outbreak is over, Borgono said she still questions whether it is safe to eat romaine lettuce.

“Just because it was a really large health issue, I prefer to [avoid] eating it until I feel comfortable and see people eating it again,” said Borgono.

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