FDA Investigating Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Likely Linked to Romaine Lettuce Grown in California

PRESS RELEASE NO.: 2019-018

FDA Investigating Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Likely Linked to Romaine Lettuce Grown in California

The Division of Environmental Health (DEH) of the Department of Public Health and Social Services, in coordination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state agencies, would like to update the public about the multistate outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 illnesses that are linked to romaine lettuce. 

As of November 26, 2018, the outbreak has resulted in 43 people becoming ill in 12 states with the last reported illness being reported on October 31st.  An additional 22 people in Canada who became ill have been linked to the U.S. outbreak.

Based on their investigation, FDA has reason to believe that the romaine lettuce associated with the outbreak comes from Central Coast growing regions of central and northern California.  These areas are known to grow romaine lettuce over the summer months and the outbreak appears to be related to the “end of season” harvest.  FDA’s investigation is still on-going and they are conducting tracebacks of romaine lettuce from locations where ill consumers purchased or consumed romaine lettuce in order to identify specific locations that may potentially be the source of the outbreak, as well as the factors that resulted in the contamination.  

As a result of their findings, FDA is issuing the following updated advice as part of their investigation and public warning:

Based on discussions with major producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date.  Romaine lettuce entering the market can also be labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse grown.  If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.
 
If consumers, retailers, and food service facilities are unable to identify whether romaine lettuce products are from the affected areas outside the Central Coast region of central and northern California, FDA urges that these products not be purchased, or if purchased, be discarded or returned to the place of purchase.

Romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California does not appear to be related to the current outbreak.  Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these sources.

  FDA also urged growers, processors, distributors and retailers to:

  • Clearly and prominently label all individually packaged romaine products to identify growing region and harvest date for romaine; and
  • Clearly and prominently label at the point of sale the growing region when it is not possible for romaine lettuce suppliers to label the package (e.g. individual unwrapped whole heads of romaine lettuce available in retail stores).

To date, DEH is not aware of any local cases attributed to illness from contaminated romaine lettuce on Guam.  The Department of Public Health and Social Services would like to thank all businesses for their support in protecting public health by implementing the advice and recommendation of FDA and CDC.

For more information, please log on to FDA’s website at www.fda.gov or contact the Consumer Commodities Program at the Division of Environmental Health at 735-7221.

 

       LEO G. CASIL

       Acting Director