FDA believes California lettuce sparked E-Coli outbreak

Romaine lettuce was removed from the shelves a grocery store in Pittsburgh last week

A produce industry group says it expects USA health officials to scale back a public health alert warning people not to eat any romaine lettuce because of an E. coli outbreak.

The U.S. Food and Drug administration on Monday gave the all clear to consume romaine lettuce from Arizona, Florida, Mexico and California's Imperial Valley. She says special labeling would be required for the romaine given clearance to go on the market.

The FDA is continuing tracebacks of romaine lettuce from locations where impacted consumers purchased or consumed romaine lettuce before they became ill in order to identify specific locations that are the likely source of the outbreak and to determine the factors that resulted in contamination.

The CDC is advising restaurants and food retailers to stop serving and selling romaine lettuce, including salads and salad mixes with romaine, from California's Central Coast. Harvests recently began shifting to southern California and the Yuma, Arizona, region.

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.

After posting the advisory Tuesday, the FDA investigated the outbreak over the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Federal health officials said on Monday (Nov 26) that only romaine lettuce from certain parts of California is unsafe to eat and romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labelled to give consumers information about when and where it was harvested. Canada linked its cases to romaine lettuce specifically, but USA investigators said only that the origin was in leafy greens. The involved areas include the Central Coast growing regions of central and northern California.

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In the wake of the current outbreak, the leafy greens industry is planning to establish another task force to come up with better ways to prevent problems in romaine lettuce and other greens, an effort that could include a discussion about long-term origin and date labeling standards for other leafy greens, Gottlieb told POLITICO.

Twenty-two people in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick have been sickened by E. coli since October.

To date, there have been 43 confirmed illnesses in 12 states, with 16 people hospitalized and no deaths, according to FDA.

Earlier this year, the situation was almost reversed: Some in the industry started putting stickers on product saying the lettuce was from California to differentiate from the Yuma region, though officials weren't able to pinpoint the problem to Yuma until right at the end of the season.

A limited recall of romaine in May 2018 led to $70 million less in sales from April to June than in the same period the previous year, according to an industry report.

Growers in Yuma also started treating irrigation water that would touch plant leaves with chlorine to kill potential contaminants, Suslow said. 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.

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