Local grocery stores and restaurants are taking a wait-and-see approach before removing romaine lettuce – the suspect in a recent outbreak of foodborne illnesses – from their shelves and menus.

Spokesmen for Shaw’s and Hannaford stores said they will continue to sell the lettuce because federal health officials have not yet drawn any conclusions about the E. coli outbreak, which sickened nearly 60 people in 13 states and Canada and killed at least two. None of the illnesses occurred in Maine.

“We closely monitor information provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control,” Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said. “At this time, there has not been a recall or an advisory issued on this particular item. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada did issue a warning about eating romaine after linking the Canadian cases of E. coli to the leafy green lettuce. Last week, Consumer Reports issued its own advisory warning people not to eat romaine, and the Wendy’s fast food chain recently announced it was temporarily halting the sale of Caesar salads.

In Portland, at least a half dozen restaurants that sell romaine-based salads said they had no immediate plans to pull them off their menus. Many said they rely on their suppliers to keep them informed about food contamination and product recalls.

“I talked to our produce supplier this morning, and they were not concerned about the product that we’re getting right now,” said chef/proprietor Larry Matthews Jr. of Back Bay Grill, which sells a Hearts of Romaine salad. “I trust them to do a good job.”

Dan Napolitano, general manager at Bruno’s, said he relies on wholesalers and regular emails from state health officials to keep him informed of such issues, so he is still serving Caesar salad at the restaurant for now. “I would pull it if there’s a problem,” he said.

Troy Andrews, director of sales and marketing at Native Maine Produce, said the company has gotten “a handful of calls” from people asking about the safety of the romaine lettuce they sell, which mostly comes from California. He said the company would typically wait for a recall before taking actions such as destroying produce or halting sales.

“There is not a recall in place, and it is currently business as usual,” Andrews said.

The only restaurant contacted that has pulled Caesar salad off its menu is the East Ender in Portland’s Old Port. Co-owner Karl Deuben said it was simply a proactive move. “I’m sure the CDC will have some definitive answers pretty soon,” he said.

Anders Tallberg, chef at the Roma, doesn’t use romaine in his Caesar salad because he prefers a variety called Little Gem.

“It’s sweeter, it’s smaller, the heads are a lot tighter,” he said. “We get them packed from a farm in California.”

But Anders said he’ll keep an eye on the restaurant’s Caesar salad sales, and if they start to dip he will clarify the menu description of the salad so that customers won’t be afraid to order it. That’s important because for every Caesar salad the Roma sells, the restaurant donates $1 to a local charity that fights childhood hunger.

“It will put people’s minds at rest,” he said.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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