FDA says some romaine OK to eat; check labels first

Pearl Mccarthy
November 27, 2018

Despite the very recent E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce that sickened at least 210 people across 36 states, causing kidney failure in 27 cases and death in five others, regulation of the safety of the Caesar salad staple is unlikely to be improved by the federal government anytime soon.

The agency warned the public last Tuesday not to eat any romaine lettuce after dozens of people were reported sick - including some who were hospitalized - because of an E.coli outbreak connected to the food.

The FDA said on Monday that all romaine lettuce entering the market should now be labeled with a harvest location and date and that consumers should not buy or eat it if that information is missing.

"Preliminary traceback information indicates that ill people in several areas across the country were exposed to romaine lettuce harvested in California". It says romaine from those places wasn't yet shipping when the illnesses began.

Under the Trump administration's FDA regulations, produce growers won't be required to begin annual testing until 2022, after which any grower with an E. coli problem will have an additional two years through 2024 to resolve the issue. Hydroponic lettuce and lettuce grown in greenhouses also do not appear to be affected by the outbreak.

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If it's from the winter-growing regions of the US - the California desert region of the Imperial Valley, the desert region of Arizona in and around Yuma and Florida - it's fine, since people started getting sick before these regions started shipping out their product.

The labelling arrangement was worked out as the produce industry called on the FDA to quickly narrow the scope of its warning so it wouldn't have to waste freshly harvested romaine. The FDA says it has been talking with industry officials on product labeling that will include source of origin and date to help deal with any potential future recalls. The labels may be extended to other leafy greens, he said. The FDA last week advised anyone who had romaine lettuce in their homes or businesses to withdraw and destroy the leafy greens.

That's up from 32 people sickened, including 13 hospitalized, in 11 states last week, and there could be more cases coming.

People of all ages are at risk of becoming infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, according to the FDA. "Since, then harvesting of romaine lettuce from this region has ended for the year". Contaminated irrigation water near a cattle lot was later identified as the likely source.

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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