Only romaine lettuce from central, northern California is unsafe: U.S. FDA

Henrietta Brewer
November 28, 2018

The Food and Drug Administration narrowed its blanket warning from last week, when it said people shouldn't eat any romaine because of an E. coli outbreak.

The multi-state outbreak of E. coli infections has been traced to the Central Coast regions of California, according to a statement from Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

"At this time, the FDA has no information to suggest any of these growing areas are involved in the current outbreak, which began well before any romaine lettuce from these winter growing locations was available for harvest", Gottlieb said.

Due to personal health information restrictions, OPH can not provide any additional information about the case, however, the person did report consumption of romaine lettuce.

There is no recall of romaine lettuce in British Columbia, but several Island retailers have removed the item from store shelves or replaced it with romaine grown in area's known not to be have been affected by the outbreak. Twenty-two people in Canada were also sickened.

Now the FDA has linked the tainted lettuce to the "end of season" harvest in California's Central Coast Region.

Consumers will be able to know where the food is harvested and produced because the produce industry agreed to start putting harvest dates and regions on labels.

The CDC has said that these cases are genetically unrelated to another E. coli outbreak earlier this year that killed five people and sickened 200.

At least 22 people in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick have been sickened in the outbreak. It noted the labels are voluntary, and that it will monitor whether to expand the measure to other leafy greens and produce.

Robert Whitaker, chief science officer of the Produce Marketing Association, said labelling for romaine could help limit the scope of future alerts and rebuild public trust after other outbreaks.

Currently, per FDA standards, irrigation water doesn't have to be tested for risky pathogens such as E. coli. Unfortunately, even these extra efforts aren't foolproof as the one farm (out of likely many) that has been identified as a grower of the recent contaminated lettuce ascribes to this monthly self-testing and has for the past 10 years, seemingly meeting federal standards for allowable E. coli levels.

Canadian officials are advising the food industry and importers not to import romaine from the California region identified by the FDA.

The FDA said there was no reason to believe that the romaine lettuce being grown in other large growing regions, including the California desert region of the Imperial Valley; the desert region of Arizona in and around Yuma; and Florida, would be contaminated.

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