FDA gives OK to eat some romaine lettuce

Henrietta Brewer
December 3, 2018

The Food and Drug Administration is narrowing its blanket warning from last week, when it said people shouldn't eat any type of romaine because of an E. coli outbreak. The contamination happened "well before" the winter romaine lettuce farming started, according to the FDA, which says it is unaware of any contamination that may be present at the new growing locations. The permitted areas include the Imperial Valley and other desert growing regions in California, as well as Yuma, AZ, Florida and Mexico. Hydroponic lettuce and lettuce grown in greenhouses also do not appear to be affected by the outbreak.

Though there is likely romaine lettuce coming from non-contaminated regions in the United States, the FDA says the USA market should have a "clean break" in the romaine lettuce supply chain in order to ensure that all possibly contaminated lettuce is purged from the market. The agency hasn't identified a source of contamination.

Agency officials say consumers should check revamped labels that will now say where and when their romaine was grown.

The produce industry agreed to start putting harvest dates and regions on labels. FDA plans to increase its communications efforts on this matter and scheduled a call the afternoon of November 26 with state departments of agriculture to advise of the new guidance.

Despite industry measures implemented after a spinach outbreak more than a decade ago, health officials noted this month there have been 28 E. coli outbreaks linked to leafy greens since 2009.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the FDA continued to investigate the outbreak. Therefore, a straight warning has been given to the public by the CDC asking them to not eat any romaine lettuce.

And, if you're not sure if the leafy green you're served is actually romaine, ask. Eight individuals have been hospitalized, and one individual suffered from hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which is a severe complication that can result from an E. coli infection. As no contaminated product has been found in the marketplace and the source of the contamination has not been identified, there have been no product recalls in Canada or the U.S associated with this outbreak.

Only romaine lettuce from certain parts of California is unsafe to eat, federal health officials announced Monday.

Many cases have been reported by the people in various states including Michigan, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Wisconsin, and OH, among others.

If you would like to find out more information, you can contact your nearest state and district health office accessible via the Health Ministry's portal here, or you could get in touch with the Malaysian Food and Safety Quality Division via Facebook here. No deaths have been reported in the latest outbreak, but the dozens of illnesses highlight the challenge of eliminating risk for vegetables grown in open fields and eaten raw, the role of nearby cattle operations that produce huge volumes of manure and the delay of stricter federal food safety regulations.

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