More than 6,000 restaurants and grocery stores in Massachusetts were advised this week to stop serving or stocking romaine lettuce until further notice, in response to the recent E. coli outbreak linked to the greens, trade groups for the businesses said.
Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the word went out to approximately 5,500 member establishments before the dinner rush Tuesday.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of Caesar salad served at Thanksgiving,” Luz said.
“CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several states, Canada, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli O157:H7) infections linked to romaine lettuce,” the federal agency said in a Tuesday advisory. “CDC is advising that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until we learn more about the outbreak.”
The message was delivered in Mass., Luz said.
“Very early on [Tuesday] we issued an alert to all members that included the alert from the CDC recommending that all restaurants and individuals remove any romaine [from] their inventory,” he said.
And that doesn’t just affect salad offerings.
“Romaine’s not just used in Caesar salads,” Luz said. “It’s used in mixed green salads, potentially on burgers. It’s used in a number of different entrees and salads.” And in the short term, at least, those menu offerings may look “slightly different” when they arrive at your table, Luz said.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents hundreds of grocers statewide, also informed its members of the federal advisory in an e-mail message Tuesday.
“Today the FDA and CDC will be announcing a consumer advisory on ALL Romaine Lettuce from ALL growing regions due to an ongoing outbreak of E. Coli O157:H7,” the message from the food association said. “They are requesting that retailers not sell any romaine lettuce and that consumers not eat any romaine lettuce until further notice.”
Brian Houghton, senior vice president of government affairs and communications for the Mass. Food Association, said the timing of the directive was “unfortunate” with Turkey Day right around the corner.
“I had to throw a bag away myself,” Houghton said. “Any information, we just funnel it out.”
He said he was unsure about the financial effect on member stores.
“Being Thanksgiving week, a lot of people are [normally] consuming this product,” he said. “It’s more significant than it would be in a normal week.”
Among the 32 people infected with the “outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli” are two Massachusetts residents, according to the latest CDC data. Further information about those local cases wasn’t immediately available.
Other cases have been reported in New Hampshire, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin, according to the CDC.
Luz stressed that restaurants will remain open for business in Massachusetts during the holiday weekend.
“It’s a busy weekend,” he said. “With Black Friday, there’s a lot of restaurants located around shopping areas. It’s going to be a busy weekend with people out shopping, people coming home for the holidays. . . . Thanksgiving, of course, is a wondrous eating and drinking weekend, and we suspect that’s not going to change.”