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Another romaine lettuce issue, this time from Salinas, California...seems like there is one every week?
Unfortunately, regarding the most recent E-coli outbreak, the CDC says washing the lettuce will NOT prevent you from getting sick???
I have a solution…GROW YOUR OWN.
Lettuce can be grown in containers, shallow beds, or a traditional, in the ground garden.
I have been growing mine with seeds I obtained from my local libraries’ seed exchange.
Some have grown beautifully…some have not.
If you want to grow your own or continue to purchase from your local supermarket, here are a few things you should know.
What is Romaine Lettuce?
Because it is said to have originated on the Aegean Island of Cos, romaine is also called Cos lettuce.
Romaine’s elongated head has dark green outer leaves that lighten to pale-green in the center.
The leaves are crisp and slightly bitter and the crunchy midrib is particularly succulent.
Romaine adds crunch and flavor to mixed green salads and is the lettuce of choice for Caesar Salads.
Most experts and food safety officials believe the most recent safety issues with romaine lettuce are resulting from unsanitary irrigation practices at the farm level.
However, there are several other areas which can result in a problem…
- farmworkers not washing their hands
- farm equipment may have manure on it
- bird droppings on the plants
- if farm animals get into the production field, they can leave waste behind
The industry is working diligently to try and pinpoint the exact cause and take measures to ensure this stops happening.
Health Benefits of Romaine…
As with all leafy greens, the darker the leaf, the richer the production of healthy nutrients.
Romaine is a great source of fiber, with high levels of vitamins A, K, and C.
Vitamin A and C support our natural immune system, in the body, and prevent inflammation.
The fiber in romaine does more than fill you up; it also helps to move food through your digestive tracts and promotes healthy digestion.
With only 8 calories per cup of romaine lettuce, you can eat just about as much as you want.
This variety of lettuce also contains impressive levels of amino acids, which the body requires for normal growth and development.
There is a decent amount of iron found in the leaves of Romaine lettuce, which helps improve circulation throughout the body and prevents the risk of numerous heart conditions.
Storing Romaine at Home
I usually purchase Romaine hearts which are packaged in groups of three or less, depending upon their size.
If possible, I buy locally grown Romaine and since the most recent recall for romaine was confined to Salinas, California, check the label before you buy.
I do not open the package until I am ready to use one of the heads, then I remove all the stalks from the bag, thoroughly washing the outer 2 layers of leaves.
I allow the lettuce to drip dry for 5-10 minutes before wrapping each heart into 2-3 sheets of paper towels.
Do not dry the leaves before wrapping them. Allow the residual water to provide a moistened “blanket,” if you will, for the lettuce.
I also take care as to not put the printed side of the paper towel directly onto the lettuce as I wrap it.
Once wrapped, I package the hearts into a gallon zip-lock bag – never placing more than two hearts per bag.
Remove all air from the zip lock bag and place it in the crisper of your refrigerator.
I have been able to keep romaine hearts for 14 – 17 days using this method.
In the Kitchen…
Now, we know how to store romaine lettuce, what additional measures should we take before using it?
First, remove it from the refrigerator and discard the paper towels used for storage.
Cut the base of the stalk off and throw it away.
Now you have several, loose leaves ready to chop into a salad.
Before you do, you need to clean where you were not able to clean before.
Some speculate the shape of the lettuce could precipitate some of the contamination issues; therefore, I have a resolution.
Fill a bowl or basin with cold water.
Separate the leaves and submerge the greens in the water.
Lift the greens out of the water and place in a colander to drain.
Drain the dirty water from the bowl or basin and refill with fresh water.
Repeat until the water is clean when you lift out the greens.
I recommend using a salad spinner to dry the leaves, since you probably harvest the heads when are ready to use them immediately. OXO Good Grips Little Salad & Herb Spinner
If you are only going to use a few leaves, rinse the leaves, individually, under running, cool water – then place them in your salad spinner to thoroughly dry.
Romaine Lettuce in Your Garden
If you want to avoid the possibility of eating contaminated lettuce, the best solution is to grow your own.
You know exactly what was put on it for any type of pest control and you know how to properly clean it.
It grows very fast and long-lasting but can be difficult in extreme high-temperature climates.
Ideally grown in fall or spring – plant seeds about 1/2″ deep in good fertile soil. Ideally, plant in rows, with seeds approximately 4-6″ apart.
Keep soil moist but not saturated.
As far as direct sun, mine get about 6 hours of sun and are sheltered by strong winds – which happen frequently living in the Appalachian Foothills.
Romaine grows to form upright heads with rather wavy, attractive leaves.
It is ready to harvest when the leaves have elongated and overlap to form a fairly tight head, about 6-8 inches tall.
In the Kitchen…
In my house, we try to have a larger salad, once a week, with an accompanying protein (chicken or ham).
Most of the time, romaine is the base of our salad.
Salad with Chicken Bites
- 3 Tyson's Southern Breast Tenderloins
- 1 Romaine heart
- 2 Radishes
- 2 peeled carrots
- 2 cooked, hard-boiled eggs
- 2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
- 6 cherry tomatoes
- Heat oven to 425º
- Place chicken tenderloins on a baking sheet lined with non-stick foil
- While chicken is cooking, prepare salads by chopping and evenly dividing lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, carrots
- Peel and slice one hard-boiled egg for each salad
- Top with shredded cheddar cheese - NOT the pre-shredded stuff but fresh cheese.
- Cut cooked chicken into bite-size portions and divided evenly between salads.
- Serve dressing on the side to control calories
- Top salads with bacon bits, croutons, or sunflower seeds.
If you are skid-ish about buying romaine from your local grocer – try growing your own – but if you enjoy the convenience of buying from the supermarket and are willing to risk it – LIKE ME – make sure to take proper care to insure a good salad for you and your family
Are you still buying romaine lettuce despite the recent issues?