Based on new information, CDC is advising that consumers not eat and retailers not sell any romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas, Calif., growing region. According to the update, epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence collected to date indicate that romaine lettuce from the Salinas, Calif., growing region may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and is making people sick. Whole genome sequencing shows that the E. coli strain in romaine lettuce tested by the Maryland Department of Health is closely related genetically to the E. coli found in sick people in this outbreak. The romaine lettuce was harvested from the Salinas rowing region.
A total of 40 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli have been reported from 16 states; 28 hospitalizations have been reported, five of which have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported. The investigation is ongoing to determine the source of contamination and if additional products are linked to illness.
CDC’s advice to not eat or sell the Salinas-harvested romaine includes all types such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and packages of precut lettuce and salad mixes which contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.
Consumers, restaurants and retailers should check the label on the romaine lettuce or ask about the source. Look for a label showing where the romaine lettuce was grown, which may be printed on the package or on a sticker. If the label says “Salinas” (whether alone or with the name of another location), don’t sell or serve it. If it isn’t labeled with a growing region, don’t eat, sell or serve it. Suppliers, distributors, and others in the supply chain should not ship or sell romaine harvested in Salinas.
On November 21, 2019, Missa Bay, LLC, recalled salad products due to possible E. coli contamination. The recalled salad products have “Use By” dates ranging from October 29, 2019, to November 1, 2019 and the establishment number “EST. 18502B” inside the USDA mark of inspection.
This recall includes salad products that contained contaminated romaine lettuce. The romaine lettuce was tested by the Maryland Department of Health as part of a foodborne illness outbreak in Maryland. The USDA website for a full list of recalled products.
According to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, the announcement is being met with frustration and heartbreak by California lettuce farmers, and the association is urging consumers to purchase products identified as safe.
At this time, romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Salinas region has not been implicated in this outbreak investigation, which means that romaine from the following regions is safe: Yuma, Phoenix, Southern Arizona, Northern Arizona, Northern California, Santa Maria, Southern California, Imperial Valley, Coachella and Central Valley. Product from Mexico and other states is also cleared, the LGMA statement said, adding, hydroponically and greenhouse grown romaine is also not implicated in the outbreak.
“Right now, romaine is being harvested in Arizona and southern California growing areas that are not part of this outbreak and harvest is nearly complete in the Salinas Valley,” said LGMA CEO Scott Horsfall. “Public health agencies have stated that only product from the Salinas area is included in the consumer advisory. Romaine producers will be working closely with their customers to make sure all product from Salinas is removed from marketing channels, but romaine from any other growing area is safe for consumption.”
“For the past year, producers have been voluntarily labeling romaine lettuce with information on harvest date and growing region,” explained Horsfall. “Today, this information provides consumers, retailers and foodservice operators with assurances the products they are purchasing have been identified as safe for consumption. We are hopeful these actions by industry will minimize withdrawal of safe product from stores and restaurants and reduce food waste.”
“We are devastated as a leafy greens community when this happens,” said Dan Sutton, a farmer from Oceano, Calif. “Our thoughts go to those affected by this outbreak. But that’s why we want to continue to work with governmental agencies to learn why this is happening so that we can improve.”
The LGMA is working closely with public health agencies and have volunteered to assist with investigations in any way possible. The organization is also working with other initiatives to conduct research to learn more about how romaine is the source of outbreaks. They invite the public, media and government officials to learn more about their program and the practices required of leafy green producers at www.lgma.ca.gov or by contacting them directly at (916) 441-1240.