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USDA Issues New Advisory On Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak

Romaine lettuce.
Romaine lettuce. Photo Credit: USDA Food Safety

More people have fallen ill as a result of an  E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce.

Twenty-three more people have reported illnesses in 13 states, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, bringing the total reported illnesses well over 100 in 25 states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Earlier this month, the USDA linked the outbreak to Harrison Farms in Yuma, Ari. as the potential source of the outbreak. New illnesses have been reported in three states: Iowa, Nebraska, and Oregon.

According to the USDA, “ the last shipments of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region were harvested on April 16, 2018 and the harvest season is over. It is unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still available in stores or restaurants due to its 21-day shelf life.

“It takes two to three weeks between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported to CDC. The most recent illnesses reported to CDC started when romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region was likely still available in stores, restaurants, and in peoples’ homes.”

The CDC has suggested that consumers should not sell any romaine lettuce that was grown in that area, including whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine and salad or salad mixes that contain romaine lettuce. Restauranteurs have been advised to contact their suppliers to determine where their lettuce is sourced.

“The CDC and FDA are continuing to advise consumers to avoid all romaine grown in Yuma, Arizona,” officials noted in a statement. “The FDA is waiting on more testing that could potentially link Harrison Farms or additional growers in Yuma, Arizona. An original cluster in New Jersey linked to Panera Bread Restaurants alerted health officials to the outbreak.”

Symptoms of E. coli include stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Others may endure a minor fever. As of Friday morning, the Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue a recall of romaine lettuce in the United States.

“This is a shockingly large percentage of hospitalized and HUS cases,” Bill Marler, a managing partner at the Food Safety Law Firm Marler Clark said in a statement. “It underscores the need for the produce industry to do a better job of traceability so these outbreaks are identified and stopped as soon as possible.”

In response to the outbreak, the CDC has offered tips to consumers:

  • Do not eat or buy romaine lettuce unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.
  • Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, do not eat or buy it if you are uncertain about where it was grown.
  • This advice includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the lettuce in a salad mix is romaine, do not eat it.
  • Wash your hands. Wash hands after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals.
  • Don’t prepare food or drink for others when you are sick.
  • Cook meats thoroughly to kill harmful germs. Cook steaks and roasts to at least 145˚F and let rest for 3 minutes after you remove meat from the grill or stove. Cook ground beef and pork to at least 160˚F. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the meat.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate food preparation areas. Thoroughly wash hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
  • Avoid raw milk, other unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices.

“Even though we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the US, a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is almost always consumed raw,” Consumer Reports food safety director James Rogers said in a statement.

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