SACRAMENTO — State health officials are warning Californians not to eat a brand of prepackaged salad mix containing romaine lettuce that was possibly contaminated by E. coli bacteria.
This week's massive recall of nearly 500,000 bags of the salad mix, sold under the "Fresh Express" label, was the latest incident to put in question the safety of the nation's food supply.
The contamination that triggered Thursday's recall was discovered through a routine inspection, said Al Lundeen, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.
It's unlikely stores still have the affected product in their produce aisles, because the packages presumably would have been off grocers' shelves by their "Use by" dates of July 8-12.
Some consumers, however could still have the tainted product in their refrigerators. Health officials advise them to immediately discard the packages and thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water.
No illnesses have been linked to the brand's 23 affected products that contain the tainted romaine lettuce, officials said.
E. coli can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps but could also lead to more serious conditions, such as kidney damage.
Mary Rodriguez, 62, who was shopping Thursday at Safeway on 19th Street in midtown Sacramento, said she occasionally buys the brand. But she expressed little worry.
"This happens all the time. Once you get it, you need to wash it good and all that. You hear it all the time, tomatoes, this or that."
Deanna Evans, 29, another Safeway shopper, purchases "Fresh Express" products regularly and might have bought a bag of the recalled product when it was still on the grocer's shelves.
"I guess I still feel confident in the brand because recalls happen all the time. I'll still buy it," she said.
While product recalls are common, contaminated food is particularly troublesome because so many people can potentially become ill.
The salad mix was distributed to grocery stores in 19 states, including California, Oregon, Arizona and Nevada, according to the state officials.
About 40,684 cases of the recalled product — or about 480,000 individual packages — were sent to such grocers in California as Safeway.
In 2006, spinach laced with E. coli created a national scare over fresh produce. Three deaths were tied to the outbreak in 26 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In all, 199 people were affected by the tainted vegetable, traced back to a Salinas farm.
In May, "Fresh Express," a subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International, voluntarily recalled ready-to-eat bags of salads containing romaine lettuce.