Consumer Q&A: E. coli outbreak
Is it safe to buy romaine lettuce?
The latest consumer advisory from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is posted here. The government continues to identify the source of this multi-state outbreak of E. Coli 0157:H7 as romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, AZ region. Only one farm has been associated with the Alaska cluster of illnesses, with whole head lettuce.
CDC investigators have learned of additional people who became sick in this outbreak as late as April 21.
What about romaine grown in California?
No illnesses have been linked to romaine lettuce grown in California. Nearly all the romaine being sold in stores or served in restaurants today is from California. As is normally the case at this time of year, lettuce production has shifted from the southern desert areas near Yuma, AZ to the central valleys of California near Salinas. No more romaine is being harvested in Yuma.
How can consumers identify where their romaine was grown?
While it can be difficult for consumers to readily identify where the romaine they are buying was grown, retail grocery stores and restaurants are well aware of the public health warnings about romaine grown near Yuma, AZ. These companies and the leafy greens community are working together to take all possible precautions to ensure the safety of the products they grow and sell. Many stores and restaurants are using signage to help inform consumers about the source of their romaine.
Why are more people becoming ill in this outbreak?
Public health agencies continue to investigate and learn more about this outbreak. As information comes into county health departments around the country, investigators are finding more people who are linked to this outbreak through a common pathogen. This doesn’t mean that people are continuing to get sick. Investigators are simply learning about additional people who became ill weeks ago. Government investigators will continue to monitor illness dates for clues to help them understand more about this outbreak, what caused it and when it can be declared over.
If you believe it is unlikely that contaminated romaine is still available for sale, why haven’t government agencies declared this outbreak over and why are consumer advisories still in place?
Public health agencies are responsible for assuring the safety of our food supply. Until they can be absolutely certain there is no chance people could still be sickened by the romaine responsible for this outbreak, the government will continue to update consumers and provide advisories as needed.
What is being done by leafy greens producers to make sure outbreaks like this don’t happen again?
Maintaining consumer confidence in the safety of our products is of utmost importance to the leafy greens community. Our sympathies go out to those impacted by this outbreak. We are committed to working with government to learn how romaine lettuce came to be responsible for this outbreak and what can be done to prevent future outbreaks. The findings from this investigation will inform and advise the technical aspects of our program, so we can continually improve and mitigate this risk in the future.
The food safety program followed by members of Arizona and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements (LGMAs) is one of the most rigorous in today’s produce industry. The program includes mandatory government audits to verify a set of science-based food safety practices are being followed on leafy greens farms.
Consumers should know that companies who are part of our programs are required to be in 100 percent compliance with required LGMA food safety practices. Every LGMA member and their operations are inspected by government auditors, who verify more than 150 food safety checkpoints. These audits take place about five times per year for every LGMA member company. We are always striving to make improvements to this system.