LENEXA, Kan. — I visited 12 grocery stores in the Kansas City metro the evening of Nov. 20 to see how retailers were responding to the new CDC advisory about romaine lettuce, and all the stores except Walmart and Sam’s Club had removed all or most of the romaine from shelves, with a number of stores posting signs to let their shoppers know what was happening.
Payless Discount Foods, Target, Whole Foods Market, Natural Grocers, Hy-Vee, Aldi, Hen House Market, Sprouts Farmers Market, Cosentino’s Market and Price Chopper had all gotten rid of romaine products — although three stores missed a couple of items — by the time I visited between 7 and 9:30 p.m.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had released a notice at 1:30 p.m. that, due to another E. coli outbreak linked to romaine, people should avoid whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, bags and boxes of pre-cut lettuce, baby romaine and salads including spring mix and Caesar. The CDC also advised retailers not to sell romaine and restaurants not to serve it.
Except for Sam’s Club and Walmart, all the stores I visited had pulled all or most of their packaged and bulk romaine products. Five stores also put up signs about the advisory.
When I asked the store-level employees at Walmart and Sam’s Club about the warning from the CDC, they said they were waiting to hear whether their specific products were affected.
The person at Sam’s Club noted there had not been a recall; the person at Walmart said any product flagged in the company’s system would not be allowed through the check-out — but at least one romaine product wasn’t ringing up as problematic that evening when the person scanned the item to check.
I returned to the same Walmart store about 7 a.m. Nov. 21 to see if anything had changed. When I walked up to the wet rack, employees were tossing romaine products into a bin to dump. The instructions had come through on which items needed to be taken down, I was told.
I reached out to Walmart to ask what its policy is on when to remove products after a broad advisory like the one the CDC issued Nov. 20.
Fifty illnesses have been attributed to the new outbreak linked to romaine. In a separate E. coli outbreak earlier this year, more than 200 people were sickened, and five died.
The United Fresh Produce Association has advised members of the supply chain to follow the advisory of the CDC and respond quickly when federal investigators request traceback information.