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The most recent recall update on romaine lettuce grown in the Salinas, California region was issued by the FDA on Dec. 19. Officials are still warning consumers to be aware of the ongoing investigation and to avoid romaine lettuce grown in that region.

In a previous health alert, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised consumers, retailers, and restaurants not to eat or sell any romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas, California area due to a risk of illness from E.Coli contamination. 

Since that release on Nov. 21 , the FDA, CDC, and state health authorities have been investigating an outbreak of illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 in the United States. Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicates that romaine lettuce from the Salinas, Calif., growing region is a likely source of this outbreak. According to CDC, there have been 102 cases reported in 23 states as of Dec. 2. The latest date that one of these patients reports becoming ill was on Nov. 18.

Based on available traceback data, the FDA requested a voluntary withdraw of romaine grown in Salinas from the market and is requesting that the industry withhold distribution of Salinas romaine for the remainder of the growing season in Salinas. This was the most efficient way to ensure that contaminated romaine was off the market.

Products that were part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced recall related to this outbreak investigation had a "Best By" of Nov. 1 or earlier—more than one month ago, and should no longer be on the market.

FDA continues to actively investigate the cause of this outbreak. The FDA, with the assistance of staff from the Calif. Department of Public Health and the Calif. Department of Food and Agriculture, immediately deployed investigators to three farms in the Salinas area that were identified based on the traceback investigation. On the farms, investigators sampled soil and animal droppings, compost, water, and other potential environmental sources. The samples and information collected during the farm investigations are currently being analyzed. Investigators are attempting to identify any factors that could have led to contamination. Additionally, state partners are testing romaine lettuce samples for E. coli that they have collected from stores and from case patients' homes.

The FDA and state partners are conducting a traceback investigation to determine whether a common supplier or source of contamination can be identified. This investigation involves collecting and analyzing potentially hundreds of distribution records to trace the romaine that may have been available at points of exposure reported by ill people to their source. We are continuing to collect these records.

This remains an evolving and fluid situation. Information about the findings will be forthcoming as the investigation proceeds.

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Example of label on Romaine lettuce from the Salinas, Cali. region that should not be consumed at this time, due to an E.Coli outbreak in the growing region. Source: FDA

The Salinas region as defined by the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association Romaine Task Force Report includes: Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey counties in California.

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Example of label on Romaine lettuce from the Salinas, Cali. region that should not be consumed at this time, due to an E.Coli outbreak in the growing region. Source: FDA

Recommendations

Consumers should not eat romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, Cali. Additionally, consumers should not eat products identified in the recall announced by the USDA on November 21.

Romaine lettuce may be voluntarily labeled with a harvest region. If this voluntary label indicates that the romaine lettuce was grown in “Salinas” (whether alone or with the name of another location) do not eat it. Throw it away or return it to the place of purchase. If romaine lettuce does not have information about harvest region or does not indicate that it has been grown indoors (i.e., hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown), throw it away or return it to the place of purchase. Consumers ordering salad containing romaine at a restaurant or at a salad bar should ask the staff whether the romaine came from Salinas. If it did, or they do not know, do not eat it.

At this time, romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Salinas region has not been implicated in this outbreak investigation. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine, which is voluntarily labeled as “indoor grown,” from any region does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers to avoid using romaine harvested from these other sources.

Restaurants, retailers, suppliers, and distributors are directed not to serve, sell, or ship romaine harvested from Salinas, Cali. If a product source is unknown and cannot be obtain, the lettuce should not be served nor sold.

The FDA requested that industry voluntarily withdraw romaine grown in Salinas from the market and is requesting that industry withhold distribution of Salinas romaine for the remainder of the growing season in Salinas. Without more specific traceback information, this was the most efficient way to ensure that contaminated romaine was off the market.

At this time, romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Salinas region has not been implicated in this outbreak investigation. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine, which is voluntarily labeled as “indoor grown,” from any region does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these other sources.

Related Reading: CDC issues public health alert for romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, California

This story was compiled from information supplied to us and not written by a particular staff writer. To see a list of our editorial staff please go to our Staff directory.