Last week, just days before Thanksgiving, FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an unusually aggressive and sweeping warning against eating any romaine lettuce as health officials tried to get to the bottom of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak unfolding across 11 states that has sickened at least 32 people, including 13 hospitalizations. Laboratory analysis indicates that the illnesses reported in this outbreak are genetically related to illnesses reported in a previous E. coli outbreakfrom December 2017 that affected consumers in both Canada and the U.S. This tells us that the same strain of E. coli is causing illness in Canada and the USA as was seen in 2017 and it suggests there may be a reoccurring source of contamination.
"The FDA believes it was critically important to have a "clean break" in the romaine supply available to consumers in the U.S. in order to purge the market of potentially contaminated romaine lettuce related to the current outbreak", the statement said. Harvest regions such as Yuma in Arizona, the California desert growing region near Imperial County and Riverside County, the state of Florida, and Mexico are not linked to the outbreak, officials said.
"We welcome the step and believe it's a meaningful action by the industry", FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told POLITICO.
Products will say, "Romaine grown in and harvest after [date]", the growers said. They also recommend washing and sanitizing any shelves or refrigerators that stored romaine. Ninety-six people were hospitalized (five of whom died) during the last outbreak in romaine lettuce, according to the CDC.
So far, 32 people from 11 states across the US have reportedly fallen sick after consuming Romaine lettuce. There are now 22 confirmed cases in Canada across three provinces: Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The people who have gotten sick recently because of the same outbreak have also been observed to be infected with the similar fingerprint, as far as the recent E. coli strain which infected quite a few people past year, is considered.
Most of the individuals who became sick reported eating romaine lettuce before their illnesses occurred. Currently, the FDA investigation does not implicate lettuce from any of these areas. "You as the consumer have the voting power with your dollar to say that my health and the health of my family is more important than someone trying to make excuses to continue to sell this". This includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.
People of all ages are at risk of becoming infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, according to the FDA.