An employee checks on a head of romaine lettuce at a company’s plant for cultivating vegetables in Tokyo, Japan. (Photographer: Haruyoshi Yamaguchi/Bloomberg)

Stay Away From Romaine—and Turkey—This Thanksgiving

(Bloomberg) -- First, it was the turkey. Now, it’s the salad.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told American consumers Tuesday to avoid romaine lettuce because it might be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria.

Even if you have some in your refrigerator that didn’t sicken you, the agency is saying, throw the rest away and wash and sanitize the shelves or drawers where it was stored. Retailers and restaurants shouldn’t serve it either. So far there are 32 reported cases, including 13 hospitalizations.

This comes in the midst of a turkey-related salmonella outbreak. As of Nov. 5, 164 people had been sickened by a strain of salmonella known as salmonella Reading, according to the CDC.

“Our food supply is coming unglued,” said Bill Marler, an attorney with decades of litigation experience focused on foodborne illness claims. The number of outbreaks in 2018 far surpasses what has been seen earlier.

Most concerning about this romaine outbreak, he said, is that the bacteria has the same DNA fingerprint as the E. coli strain that began in December 2017. (It is not, however, the same as the romaine-related outbreak in April, traced to Yuma, Arizona.)

‘Shocking and Significant’

“That is pretty shocking and significant,” he said in an interview. “Likely that means it was grown in the same area, contaminated by the same vector.”

Romaine sales in the U.S. totaled $47 million in the four weeks that ended Nov. 3, according to Nielsen. That was down almost 12 percent from a year earlier.

Still, Marler says that the turkey represents the bigger threat this holiday. While families can substitute other greens for their salads, a turkey will be on a majority of Thanksgiving tables. He advises not washing the turkey, as that could spread the bacteria around the kitchen, and cooking it to 165 degrees. He also says people should wash their hands frequently, as well as cooking utensils, counters, and anything that comes into contact with the raw turkey.

“Take the fact that your turkey is likely contaminated with salmonella seriously.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.