FDA gives OK to eat some romaine lettuce

By Allen Cone
The U.S. Food and Drug administration has tracked the E. coli outbreak from romaine lettuce to the Imperial Valley in California. Photo by Mercedes/Flickr
The U.S. Food and Drug administration has tracked the E. coli outbreak from romaine lettuce to the Imperial Valley in California. Photo by Mercedes/Flickr

Nov. 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug administration on Monday gave the all clear to consume romaine lettuce from Arizona, Florida, Mexico and California's Imperial Valley.

The FDA, along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned U.S. residents last week not to consume the lettuce from anywhere because of an E. coli outbreak.


Now the FDA has linked the tainted lettuce to the "end of season" harvest in California's Central Coast Region. Six counties make up the area -- Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz.

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. Grocers and retailers are being asked to post the information by the register for romaine that doesn't come in packaging.


"The FDA believes it was critically important to have a 'clean break' in the romaine supply available to consumers in the U.S. in order to purge the market of potentially contaminated romaine lettuce related to the current outbreak," Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA commissioner, said in a news release. "This appears to have been accomplished through the market withdrawal request of Nov. 20, 2018."

As of Monday, the FDA said the outbreak has resulted in 43 people becoming ill in 12 states, with the last reported illness onset date on Oct. 31. In addition, 22 people in Canada became ill from the lettuce.

After posting the advisory Tuesday, the FDA investigated the outbreak over the Thanksgiving holiday period.

"Based on further discussions with the leafy greens industry and with agricultural authorities, we have begun to narrow the location in which we believe the contaminated romaine in the current outbreak was grown," Gottlieb said. "At the time of the outbreak, the vast majority of the romaine on the market was being grown in the Central Coast region of California. Since, then harvesting of romaine lettuce from this region has ended for the year."

The growing and harvesting of romaine lettuce has shifted to the winter growing regions of California's Imperial Valley, the desert region of Arizona in and around Yuma, and Florida. Those areas appear to be safe because they hadn't been shipped when people became ill.


Also safe are romaine lettuces grown hydroponically, those grown in greenhouses as well as those grown in Mexico during the winter months and smaller quantities in other states.

"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.

The FDA urges people to only purchase labeled products and those that aren't should be discarded or returned to the place of purchase.

The leafy greens industry agreed to establish a task force for solutions for long-term labeling of romaine lettuce and other leafy greens.

"The task force will also examine information from this outbreak to identify measures that led to its occurrence and how to prevent ongoing safety problems with romaine lettuce," Gottlieb said. "One outcome could be to extend the commitment for labeling for origin and date of harvest to other leafy greens."

The FDA said the E. coli O157:H7 strain causing the outbreak is similar to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in the fall of 2017.

E.coli symptoms vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea, according to the FDA. There is usually a fever of less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Some infections are very mild and people usually get better within five to seven days. But other cases are severe or even life-threatening, including among children and older adults with kidney failure.


"We remain committed to identifying ways to decrease the incidence and impact of food borne illness outbreaks, and will continue to provide updates on our investigation and changes to our advice on romaine lettuce as more information becomes available," Gottlieb said.

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