Published: Fri, November 30, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

CDC: You can eat some romaine lettuce; check labels

CDC: You can eat some romaine lettuce; check labels

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, as well as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA), to investigate an outbreak of E. coli infections in Ontario, Quebec New Brunswick, and several U.S. states. 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.

The FDA said there was no reason to believe that the romaine lettuce being grown in other large growing regions, including the California desert region of the Imperial Valley; the desert region of Arizona in and around Yuma; and Florida, would be contaminated.

As the FDA chief, Scott Gottlieb, noted on November 22 on Twitter, there's now no way to know where romaine was picked.

No common grower, supplier, distributor or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified in the outbreak.

It's OK to eat some romaine lettuce again, US health officials said. Canada linked its cases to romaine lettuce specifically, but U.S. investigators said only that the origin was in leafy greens.

The FDA is continuing tracebacks of romaine lettuce from locations where impacted consumers purchased or consumed romaine lettuce before they became ill in order to identify specific locations that are the likely source of the outbreak and to determine the factors that resulted in contamination.


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.

If you're served something with romaine lettuce in it, you don't want to remove the lettuce and eat everything else, Wu says.

While the romaine supply undergoes a "clean break" to ensure all the contaminated lettuce is effectively gone from the market, the FDA has asked producers and distributors to provide clear labeling with the lettuce's date and origin in the future. Most E. coli strains are harmless and indeed part of a healthy gut. "You as the consumer have the voting power with your dollar to say that my health and the health of my family is more important than someone trying to make excuses to continue to sell this". In addition, 22 people in Canada became ill from the lettuce.

This advice 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.

The current outbreak, the one from Yuma and the one from past year were caused by contamination of an E. coli strain known as O157:H7. There were 210 cases, including five people who died and 96 who were hospitalized.

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