US health officials say it's OK to eat some romaine again

Faith Castro
November 27, 2018

Now, the Malaysian Ministry of Health has issued a statement yesterday (26th November), confirming that Malaysia does import Romaine lettuce from the USA and the ministry has been screening the imported lettuce using the "Stop, Test, and Release" protocol that was initiated on 23rd November.

Scott Gottlieb says the source of the E. coli contamination has been isolated and stores will soon begin restocking their shelves. "If consumers have already bought Romaine lettuce imported from the USA, they are advised to not consume it". Just check the label.

It's now safe to eat some romaine lettuce, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Monday.

The vast majority of the romaine on the market was being grown in the Central Coast region of California at the time of the outbreak, according to the statement.

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 winter regions weren't yet shipping when the illnesses began.

Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be affected in the outbreak.

The FDA has urged growers, processors and sellers to label all individually packaged romaine products to identify the region and harvest date. An industry group said people can expect to start seeing labels as early as this week.

Robert Whitaker, chief science officer of the Produce Marketing Association, said labelling for romaine could help limit the scope of future alerts and rebuild public trust after other outbreaks.

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The FDA said it has no information to suggest that these growing areas are tied to the current E. coli outbreak.

An additional 22 people in Canada are also ill, so the FDA is coordinating their investigation with the Canadian health and food safety authorities, the agency said.

That's up from 32 people sickened, including 13 hospitalized, in 11 states last week, and there could be more cases coming. Contaminated irrigation water near a cattle lot was later identified as the likely source.

Federal investigators believe that the E. coli strain, known as O157:H7, causing the outbreak resembles the one that caused an outbreak in the fall of 2017 in the United States and Canada. USA investigators never specified which salad green might be to blame for those illnesses, which happened around the same time of year as the current outbreak. "There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these sources'". "The question now is, can we find it?" Another possibility, she said, is that winds blew dust from the cattle lot onto produce. Compared with iceberg lettuce, she noted its leaves are more open, thus exposing more surface area.

The FDA also said the market appears to have been successfully purged of potentially contaminated romaine lettuce related to the outbreak thanks to the market withdrawal request of November 20. But after a 2006 outbreak linked to spinach, the produce industry took steps it believed would limit large scale outbreaks, said Timothy Lytton, a Georgia State University law professor.

The FDA said that the ongoing outbreak is linked to the "end of season" harvest in some parts of California.

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

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