KITTERY, Maine — Michelle Carr had just put avocado slices onto her salad.
The new mother of a 10-week-old newborn boy was enjoying a quick lunch on Jan. 29 as she washed her lettuce, inverted it to drain, ripped it apart by hand and threw on some grape tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then, as she went to take a bite, she said she stuck her fork into something firm, but it wasn’t a slice of avocado.
“It was longer than my middle finger without its tail. We’re not talking about a spider or a bug or even a little salamander. This was a huge lizard with scales,” said Carr, a registered hematology oncology bone marrow transplant nurse. “I instantly wretched and I was revolted because I thought for a second I could’ve eaten its tail.”
Carr said she purchased the bag of store-brand romaine lettuce at the Shaw’s supermarket in Portsmouth on Jan. 26. After she got over the initial shock of finding a dead reptile in her romaine, she was instantly fearful she could have ingested harmful bacteria and was required to be on a five-day salmonella and E. coli watch. She said she is concerned about a wider-public health issue with several recalls of romaine lettuce for various bacteria concerns, including E. coli, over the past couple years.
“I’ve been breastfeeding almost non-stop since he was born,” said Carr. “This boils down to a quality-control issue. I don’t have a malicious bone in my body, and I can get past the emotional distress an incident like this causes but I could’ve gotten really sick. It’s taken me 10 years to become a mother and this could’ve been potentially harmful to my newborn.”
Carr said she had a friend who is a biologist examine the lizard and told her it could have been a blue-bellied lizard, which primarily live in California and can be up to 8.4 inches long, according to the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. The lettuce is distributed by a company out of California.
Carr said she then called representatives at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS), Shaw’s and the Food and Drug Administration but had not yet heard if her complaint was being investigated.
On Monday, NHDHHS communications director Jake Leon took a call from Seacoast Media Group and confirmed his agency had received the complaint from Carr. Because the lettuce was packaged and shipped from another state, he said that any investigation would be conducted by the FDA.
“We took the complaint and passed it along to the FDA with the understanding it was being investigated,” said Leon.
Mary Yebba, public affairs officer with the FDA office in Stoneham, Mass., also confirmed Carr’s complaint was under investigation but said she could not comment on any specifics because the inquiry is ongoing.
Shaw’s external communications and community relations manager Teresa Edington said once the store was notified of the lizard being found they immediately notified the supplier.
“Shaw’s takes all issues regarding the quality and safety of any product sold in our stores very seriously,” said Edington. “We were notified of this matter and immediately informed the supplier. We are working with the supplier to determine the cause and the steps needed to prevent this from reoccurring.”
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