La Crosse restaurant owner watching E. Coli outbreak closely

An E. Coli outbreak continues to grow with a total of 84 people sickened and 42 hospitalizations. It’s been more than a month since the outbreak was first reported and it’s not over quite yet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Arizona, but the exact farm has not yet been identified. Because of this, local grocery stores and restaurant owners are staying on the safe side.

Piggy’s Restaurant is known for its salad bar and owner Chris Rodrique would like to keep it that way.

“I had a couple of e-mails from people [saying], ‘we’re coming in for lunch, is your lettuce safe?'” Rodrique said.

He said any time there’s cause for concern, restaurant owners have to make sure they’re keeping customers safe.

“We take it very seriously because that’s your bread and butter,” Rodrique said.

By contacting his food providers, he found that the restaurant’s lettuce is sourced from California.

“Given the technologies today, they can track it down to the field and the row and everything. So, I mean, we felt very comfortable moving forward,” Rodrique said.

He’s put up signs to assure customers in line that his food is safe. But health care providers warn that while the outbreak continues, people should exercise caution.

“If it comes from your own garden or if you know it comes from a local garden, you can trust it. But if you buy something from the store and you can’t confirm where it’s been, it’s best to avoid it,” said Megan Meller, an infection preventionist with Gundersen Health System.

Meller also suggests re-washing any produce, even if it says it’s ready to eat.

“Rinsing and scrubbing at vegetables will go a long way with this strain,” Meller said.

Rodrique said his customers trust that Piggy’s has taken the right precautions but others may be taking a hit over the outbreak.

“Obviously, no one is going to be procuring anything from Yuma for a while. I think they’re going to have the bigger challenges convincing the public that their produce is safe,” Rodrique said.

In a statement, Festival Foods said, “Festival Foods pulled all of our previous inventory as a precautionary step in compliance with what FDA and CDC recommended for retailers. We are currently sourcing our romaine from California, which is not associated with the affected area (Yuma, AZ) so our current product on our shelf is safe to consume.”

If you believe you may have consumed some of the tainted lettuce, common symptoms would include mild to severe diarrhea, abdominal cramping and vomiting. Should these symptoms last for more than 24 hours, it is recommended that you contact a health care provider.