MISSOURI — More cases of people becoming ill after eating romaine lettuce linked to E. coli bacteria have been identified by federal health officials. But now, officials with the federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say romaine lettuce will be labeled in such a way that tells consumers it is safe to eat.
So far, no one has been sickened in Missouri, but the contamination prompted the CDC to tell consumers just two days before Thanksgiving not eat any kind of romaine lettuce whatsoever. In a statement issued Monday, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the broad warning was because officials had not identified a likely source of the outbreak that would have allowed them to make a more targeted warning.
Officials have since said the tainted lettuce came from California and have now narrowed down the specific area where the lettuce was harvested — the Central Coast growing regions of central and northern California.
The FDA said the romaine lettuce harvest for the region has ended and production is now shifting to winter growing regions, which include the California desert region of the Imperial Valley and the desert region of Arizona in and around Yuma and Florida. The FDA said it has no information to suggest any of these growing areas — or any smaller domestic growing areas or those in Mexico — are involved in the outbreak.
Any romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and date, the FDA said. Romaine lettuce entering the market may also be labeled as grown hydroponically or in greenhouses.
“If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it,” the FDA said.
The CDC posted a similar notice on its website but advised that it may take some time before these labels are available. But the agency also cautioned consumers and businesses not to buy, serve, sell or eat romaine lettuce that is not labeled with a harvest growing region. The FDA said it had commitments from the romaine lettuce industry that such labeling will continue and become the standard.
The outbreak has affected California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. A total of 43 people have become ill and an additional 22 people have become ill in Canada.
Here’s the full updated advice from the FDA on consuming romaine lettuce:
Based on discussions with major producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date. Romaine lettuce entering the market can also be labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse grown. If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.
If consumers, retailers, and food service facilities are unable to identify that romaine lettuce products are not affected — which means determining that the products were grown outside the California regions that appear to be implicated in the current outbreak investigation — we urge that these products not be purchased, or if purchased, be discarded or returned to the place of purchase.
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.
The FDA has urged growers, processors, distributors and retailers to:
clearly and prominently label all individually packaged romaine products to identify growing region and harvest date for romaine; and
clearly and prominently label at the point of sale the growing region when it is not possible for romaine lettuce suppliers to label the package (e.g. individual unwrapped whole heads of romaine lettuce available in retail stores).