The Center for Disease Control released an unusually forceful and sweeping alert for consumers on Tuesday not to consume romaine lettuce, and for retailers and restaurants not to sell or serve it. The reason: An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the U.S. and Canada has sickened at least 32 people. No deaths have been reported.
CDC’s pre-Thanksgiving action signals that government officials have pinned the outbreak on romaine lettuce, but haven’t narrowed down the source or region more specifically, Pro Ag’s Helena Bottemiller Evich reports.
The sweeping nature of the warning appears to break new ground. In the past, federal health officials did not take such a step until they had more specific information on the exact source of a foodborne illness outbreak. This time, officials are taking swift action as they try to prevent future illnesses.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledged to POLITICO that the warning was “broad,” but the agency believes the source of the outbreak is isolated to one region – likely California. The industry needs to improve its ability to track and trace a product back to its source when problems arise, he added.
“We’re in a position to prevent future cases of human illness,” Gottlieb told POLITICO. “Our first mandate is to protect public health, fully recognizing that this is going to cause extreme hardship for growers and for consumers.”
Major produce industry groups said they’re following FDA’s direction on pulling the product. “In order to be sure that any romaine lettuce that may have been responsible for illnesses is completely gone, we are urging full compliance with the government’s request for a voluntary withdrawal of all romaine,” said the California and Arizona leafy green marketing agreements along with other national and regional groups in a joint statement.
Romaine Déjà vu: The strain of E. coli in the current outbreak appears to be similar to a strain that caused an outbreak across the U.S. and Canada last year, but unrelated to the deadly outbreak this year tied to product from Yuma, Ariz.
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