Romaine lettuce shipments have been dead in the water since the FDA and CDC began investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses. However, this is changing since the location of the outbreak has been identified.
The agencies say it’s likely linked to romaine lettuce grown in California this fall. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency are also coordinating with U.S. agencies as they investigate a similar outbreak in Canada.
The majority of California romaine lettuce is shipped out of the Salinas Valley (Monterey County), the Santa Maria District (Santa Barbara County) and Oxnard (Ventura County). These areas would be nearing the end of their shipping season anyway, but have been halted the last couple of weeks as the government sought to identify the source of contamination.
Expect lettuce shipments out of the desert areas of California (Imperial Valley) and Arizona (Yuma), to soar with the news they are not suspected of having any of the contaminated romaine.
Yuma lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower shipments – grossing about $8400 to New York City.
The FDA has been conducting a traceback investigation, reviewing shipping records and invoices to trace the supply of romaine from the place where ill people were exposed to the place where that romaine was grown.
Preliminary traceback information indicates that ill people in several areas across the country were exposed to romaine lettuce harvested in California. Specifically, current evidence indicates this romaine was harvested in the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California, according to a FDA news release.
As of November 28th, the specific California counties FDA is including in this region are:
- San Benito
- San Luis Obispo
- Santa Barbara
- Santa Cruz
Additional counties may be added as the FDA traceback develops.
Romaine harvested from locations outside of the California regions identified by the traceback investigation does not appear to be related to the current outbreak.
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. For example, romaine lettuce harvested from areas that include, but are not limited to the desert growing region near Yuma, the California desert growing region near Imperial County and Riverside County, the state of Florida, and Mexico, does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. Additionally, there is no evidence hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine is related to the current outbreak.
During this new stage of the investigation, it is vital that consumers and retailers have an easy way to identify romaine lettuce by both harvest date and harvest location. Labeling with this information on each bag of romaine or signage in stores where labels are not an option would easily differentiate for consumers romaine from unaffected growing regions, the FDA release said.
Based on discussions with producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date or labeled as being hydroponically- or greenhouse-grown. If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.
If romaine lettuce does have this labeling information, we advise avoiding any product from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California. Romaine lettuce from outside those regions need not be avoided.
Romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine also 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 sources.