Lettuce & Food Poisoning

Close-up of lettuce in a supermarket
Lettuce may be contaminated with infectious organisms. (Image: Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images)

You can get food poisoning from eating contaminated lettuce. Lettuce is grown outdoors and may manufactures sell lettuce “as is.” It is your responsibility to wash the lettuce before using it for consumption. Food poisoning occurs when you eat food that is contaminated with an infectious organism, such as listeria. For example, if the lettuce was exposed to animal feces during the cultivation process, harvesting or manufacturing of the vegetable, it may contain infectious bacteria or a virus that will cause food poisoning.

Food Poisoning

After you eat lettuce that is contaminated, you will develop gastrointestinal discomfort and symptoms within a few hours or up to 36 hours after you consume it. At first you may think that you have indigestion, but as symptoms develop it will become apparent that a more serious condition is occurring. Symptoms may come on suddenly and violently. Most cases of food poisoning from lettuce are harmless and do not cause any long-term damage to your body. Food poisoning is considered a serious condition for infants, the elderly and people with immune system disorders.

Cause

You can get food poisoning from eating lettuce even if the lettuce isn’t directly contaminated. For example, if you cut your lettuce with the same knife you used to cut raw meat, you can cross-contaminate lettuce with a bacteria from the meat. Lettuce can also become contaminated if it is handled by hands that have not been properly washed with soap and water. Cutting boards, utensils and other tools that haven’t been cleaned properly can contaminate the lettuce. You can also get food poisoning from lettuce that is rotten.

Symptoms

Common symptoms from food poisoning from lettuce include stomach cramps, abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fever and fatigue. These symptoms may remain for one to 10 days after you’ve consumed the contaminated lettuce. Contact your doctor if you vomit blood, vomit for more than two consecutive days, severe diarrhea for more than three days, a fever higher than 101.5 degrees or blood in your stool.

Prevention

Prevent food poisoning form lettuce by properly washing it before you consume it. Run it under cold water to remove any excess residue from the lettuce. Wash your hands with soap and hot water and use utensils that have been properly washed and dried.

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