Health officials have sent a strict warning to consumers to clean out their refrigerator amid a recent outbreak of E. coli infections associated with romaine lettuce that has sicked nearly 70 people nationwide.
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Federal agencies warned consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California, ahead of one of the biggest food-oriented holidays, as they investigate the expanding multistate outbreak which has already led to scores of hospitalizations across 19 states. They also urged supermarkets and restaurants not to serve or sell the lettuce, unless they’re sure it was grown elsewhere.
In its warning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said consumers should wash and sanitize the shelves and drawers of their refrigerators where the lettuce was stored.
The CDC also offered a detailed five-step guide on how to properly clean refrigerators after a recall using sealed bags; hot, soapy water; bleach; and clean towels.
The preventive measures include:
- Throw out the recalled food and any other foods stored with it or touching it.
- Empty the rest of the items in your refrigerator and put them on a counter or table while you clean.
- Wash shelving, drawers, and any other removable parts by hand with hot, soapy water.
- Wipe the inside of the empty refrigerator with hot, soapy water, then wipe with clean water to rinse off the soap.
- Put the shelves, drawers and other removable parts back in the refrigerator, along with the other items you took out.
Additionally, the CDC says consumers can mix one tablespoon of liquid bleach in one gallon of water to sanitize their refrigerator after cleaning it with hot, soapy water. Before placing the food back, the CDC suggests wiping down everything and washing your hands.
As of Nov. 25, there have been 67 reported cases, according to the CDC, which has been working alongside the FDA and state health officials to determine the source of contamination and if additional products are linked to illness.
After last year’s pre-Thanksgiving outbreak tied to romaine, the produce industry agreed to voluntarily label the lettuce with harvest regions. Health officials said that would make it easier to trace romaine and issue more specific public health warnings when outbreaks happen.
Officials say consumers should throw out the romaine if the label says “grown in Salinas” (whether alone or with the name of another location). Similarly, if it isn’t labeled with a growing region, the CDC says to also throw it away.
If consumers have additional concerns before the biggest food-oriented holiday, the CDC has a page dedicated to frequently asked questions about the outbreak.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.