WASHINGTON—Federal and state health authorities are investigating an outbreak of illnesses caused by E. coli. Traceback evidence points to romaine lettuce from the Salinas, California, growing region. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports an increase in the case count to 67, with Nov. 14 the most recent illness onset date. The agency advises consumers not to eat romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas area, as well as any products identified in the recall announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Nov. 21.
Romaine lettuce may be voluntarily labeled with a harvest region. If a label indicates that the romaine lettuce was grown in “Salinas” (whether alone or with the name of another location), consumers are advised not to eat it and to throw it away or return it to the place of purchase. If romaine lettuce does not have information about harvest region or does not indicate that it has been grown indoors (i.e., hydroponically and greenhouse-grown), the USDA recommends that it should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase. Consumers ordering salad containing romaine at a restaurant or at a salad bar should ask the staff if the romaine came from Salinas. If it did or they don’t know, they should not eat it.
Currently, romaine lettuce harvested outside of the Salinas region has not been implicated in this investigation. Hydroponically and greenhouse-grown romaine, which is voluntarily labeled as “indoor grown,” from any region does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers to avoid using romaine harvested from other sources.
Restaurants and retailers should not serve or sell romaine harvested from Salinas. Suppliers, distributors and others in the supply chain should not ship or sell romaine harvested in Salinas, California. If the source of the lettuce is unknown, the product should not be shipped or sold.
The USDA does not have enough traceback information to identify the specific source of the contaminated lettuce that would allow the agency to request a targeted recall. At this stage, the most efficient way to ensure that contaminated romaine is off the market would be for the industry to voluntarily withdraw product grown in Salinas and to withhold distribution of Salinas romaine for the remainder of the growing season.