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It's OK to eat some romaine lettuce again, health officials say

03 December 2018

The FDA, along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned USA residents last week not to consume the lettuce from anywhere because of an E. coli outbreak.

"There's a lot of romaine out there that has nothing to do with this outbreak and we want to make sure that product is available to consumers", Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology at the United Fresh Produce Association, said Monday.

U.S. health officials say it's OK to eat some romaine lettuce again. It will give consumers more information about where and when romaine lettuce on the market was grown, which is particularly useful during foodborne illness outbreaks.

Romaine harvesting recently began shifting from California's Central Coast to winter growing areas, primarily Arizona, Florida, Mexico and California's Imperial Valley. The labeling will start with lettuce harvested starting November 23.

"Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the FDA continued to investigate the outbreak", according to a statement from FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. The agency narrowed its warning to romaine from California's Central Coast after the produce industry agreed to label romaine with harvest dates and regions, so people know what's OK to eat. "Until such a time that they find the true cause of the outbreak, you should not eat any romaine lettuce", food safety expert Darin Detwiler, director of the Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries program at Northeastern University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

- Days after warning consumers to avoid all romaine lettuce, federal health officials are revising their guidance. "If the dish contains (uncooked) romaine lettuce, it should be sent back or thrown out", she says.

Earlier this year, the situation was almost reversed: Some in the industry started putting stickers on product saying the lettuce was from California to differentiate from the Yuma region, though officials weren't able to pinpoint the problem to Yuma until right at the end of the season.

An additional 22 people in Canada are also ill, so the FDA is coordinating its investigation with the Canadian health and food safety authorities, the agency said.

The E. coli outbreak announced just before Thanksgiving follows one in the spring that sickened more than 200 people and killed five, and another a year ago that sickened 25 and killed one. Leafy greens, such as lettuce, can become contaminated in the field by soil, water, animals or improperly composted manure.

The particular strain of E. coli discovered in romaine lettuce produces Shiga toxins, which are among the most potent toxins known to exist, and which can lead to severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea.

The FDA said the industry committed to making the labelling standard for romaine and to consider longer-term labelling options for other leafy greens.

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education.

It's OK to eat some romaine lettuce again, health officials say