CDC’s pre-holiday advice to “not to eat, serve, or sell any romaine lettuce” went viral in social media over the holiday weekend. Although many of the posts were less than “politically correct,” they served to get the message across to a vast range of consumers who would likely not have otherwise known of the ban.
First posted on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, CDC announced that it and public health and regulatory officials in several states, Canada, and the FDA are investigating a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce. CDC advised that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until we learn more about the outbreak. The investigation is ongoing and the advice will be updated as more information is available.
As stated in the FDA announcement, genetic analysis of the E. coli O157:H7 strains tested to date from patients in this current outbreak are similar to strains of E. coli O157:H7 associated with athe previous outbreak from the Fall of 2017 that also affected consumers in both Canada and the U.S. The 2017 outbreak was associated with leafy greens in the U.S. and romaine in Canada. This year, romaine lettuce is the suspected vehicle for both the U.S. and Canadian outbreaks. However, there is no genetic link between the current outbreak and the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine that occurred in the Spring of 2018.
FDA is conducting a traceback investigation to determine the source of the romaine lettuce eaten by people who became sick. Additionally, FDA and states are conducting laboratory analysis of romaine lettuce samples potentially linked to the current outbreak.
Response from retailers and restaurants has been “impressive,” said Michael Droke, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney. "The scope and type of warning led to a very rapid response. Large retailers pulled raw romaine lettuce from the shelves almost immediately. Products containing raw romaine were identified within about one hour, and also removed. Even small resellers (such as airport sandwich shops) removed romaine-related products within the day. Many companies with products containing lettuce added notice or stickers stating that the product ‘does not contain romaine’ in order to retain customers.”
However, according to CDC, 32 illnesses have been reported from 11 states, including 13 people who have been hospitalized. One person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported. Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 8, 2018 to October 31, 2018.
In addition to the advice to not eat any romaine, CDC advises consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home to not eat it and throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. 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. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.
“The timing and type of warning in this incident demonstrated the importance of food safety and the speed at which the industry responds," Droke said.