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Update on Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Infection


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement on November 26th concerning the multistate outbreak of E. Coli O157:H7 attributed to romaine lettuce. As of this date, 43 confirmed cases have been documented in 12 states with most recent being October 31st.  To date 22 cases have been diagnosed in Canada.


On November 20th CDC advised consumers not to consume romaine lettuce based on the fact that the probable source had not been identified. As a precaution the green produce industry complied with a FDA request to withdrawn romaine lettuce and QSRs and supermarkets disposed of product on their shelves.


Traceback investigations suggest that the implicated lettuce was cultivated along the Central Coast and the Northern growing regions of California, with product harvested during late summer.

The FDA is attempting to narrow the location which is responsible for the infection.  As of mid-November, harvesting of romaine lettuce from the Central Coast region has ended.  Cultivation has now shifted to the Imperial Valley and the Yuma Valley of California.  During winter romaine lettuce is also imported from Mexico and some cultivation occurs in Florida.  It is evident that hydroponic romaine lettuce and greenhouse product is not involved.


The FDA considers that the recommendation to destroy available stocks of romaine lettuce issued during mid-November has removed potentially contaminated product from the market.  The FDA recommended that major producers agree to participate in a labeling program to identify the harvest region and date of pack.  This is confirmed in an official FDA update stating - based on discussions with major producers and distributors, Romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with the harvest location and the harvest date.  Romaine lettuce entering the market can also be labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse-grown.  Product without this information should not be consumed.


The FDA statement concluded with comments by Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottleib, “We hope that growers, processors, distributors and retailers will join us in our effort to protect consumers by applying labeling recommendations to their products.  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.”

Labeling will be useful in traceback investigations but will do nothing to prevent foodborne Salmonella or E.coli infection if produce is contaminated in fields or through cross-infection in packing plants. The only sure method of ensuring that green produce is free of bacterial pathogens is to introduce electron beam treatment as no other effective method of inactivating bacteria is available.