Produce industry expects to ship some romaine again soon

Henrietta Strickland
December 3, 2018

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration believes it has traced the source of the latest E. coli outbreak.

The FDA cautions against the purchase of any romaine lettuce and advises people to throw out any romaine lettuce at home.

The FDA is continuing tracebacks of romaine lettuce from locations where impacted consumers purchased or consumed romaine lettuce before they became ill in order to identify specific locations that are the likely source of the outbreak and to determine the factors that resulted in contamination.

It's OK to eat romaine lettuce again, federal health officials said Monday - as long as you're sure it wasn't grown on California's north and central coast.

Now that winter has settled into applicable parts of the U.S., romaine lettuce crops have transitioned to desert regions in California and Arizona, as well as Florida.

The labeling agreement, which was formalized on Sunday after intensive talks between FDA officials and industry leaders, is supported by all the major produce industry groups, including the United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association and Western Growers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said it is continuing its own investigation in conjunction with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Health Canada (HC) into the current outbreak of E. coli O157.

The USFDA says "There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine lettuce that is certain to have been harvested from areas outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California".

"They are not ordering romaine lettuce and will not serve romaine lettuce or any blends that contain romaine until they know more", Riley said.

It is hard to know whether a product is contaminated with E. coli because you can't see, smell or taste it. Romaine lettuce can have a shelf life of up to five weeks, and therefore it is possible that contaminated romaine lettuce purchased over the past few weeks may still be in your home. Since romaine is often chopped up and bagged, a single contaminated batch from one farm that skips testing could make a lot of people sick, he said.

The leafy greens industry agreed to establish a task force for solutions for long-term labeling of romaine lettuce and other leafy greens. Hydroponic lettuce and lettuce grown in greenhouses also do not appear to be affected by the outbreak.

Symptoms of this E. coli strain often emerge three to four days after exposure after consumption, according to the CDC, and include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

In Canada, as of November 23, 2018, there have been 22 confirmed cases of E. coli illness investigated in Ontario (4), Quebec (17), and New Brunswick (1).

Growers in Yuma also started treating irrigation water that would touch plant leaves with chlorine to kill potential contaminants, Suslow said.

But Lytton also noted the inherent risk of produce, which is grown in open fields and eaten raw.

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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