CHICAGO (CBS) — One day after the nation learned that romaine lettuce is not safe to eat, families and businesses everywhere are dealing with this reality:
They can’t sell it or serve it.
The federal government is quite concerned. But this being Thanksgiving week, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
Mounds of leaf lettuce and other substitutes now fill the spots where you’d normally find romaine.
Caputo’s Market in Elmwood Park has tossed out nearly 100 pounds and notices warn customers romaine lettuce could make them sick.
“We decided it’s the safe way to go,” said Al Prete of Caputo’s Market.
How popular is it?
“This is the most popular item,” said Peter Testa of Testa Produce. As one of the city’s major suppliers, it’s scrambling to fill substitute thousands of orders this busy holiday week.
“An unbelievable nightmare that started at 4:00 Tuesday afternoon,” said Testa.
In towering boxes, Testa is sitting on 25,000 pounds of romaine, once destined for grocery stores and restaurant chains like the Olive Garden.
And it’s costing him a lot of green.
“$75,000 worth of inventory right now and probably another $15,000 or $20,000 on the road,” said Testa.
Over 30 E coli illnesses, including two in Illinois, have been traced to romaine, leading to the CDC’s food safety alert not to consume the lettuce.
At Oak Park’s Cucina Paradiso cautionary signs remind staff romaine is off limits.
But the CDC’s warning to avoid any and all romaine is especially broad, and many in food service are looking for more information from the federal government.
“I am definitely confused because usually whenever the CDC has any type of warning, it’s usually always followed up with a recall,” said Anthony Gambino of Cucina Paradiso.
There’s an explanation as to why there’s a warning and not a recall.
The federal government hasn’t been able to pinpoint the exact producer, the exact farm that’s associated with the E coli cases. That’s why there’s this broad warning right now not to consume romaine lettuce.