With a post on their website at 2:30 p.m. Eastern today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped a bombshell.

“CDC is advising that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until we learn more about the outbreak. This investigation is ongoing and the advice will be updated as more information is available.”

 

See coverage by Chris Koger of The Packer here and here.


This afternoon, the CDC shared details of the outbreak:

  • Thirty-two people infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 11 states.
  • Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 8,2018 to October 31, 2018.
  • Thirteen people were hospitalized, including one person who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified 18 ill people infected with the same DNA fingerprint of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in two Canadian provinces: Ontario and Quebec.
  • Epidemiologic evidence from the United States and Canada indicates that romaine lettuce is a likely source of the outbreak.
  • Ill people in this outbreak were infected with E. coli bacteria with the same DNA fingerprint as the E. coli strain isolated from ill people in a 2017 outbreak linked to leafy greens in the United States and to romaine lettuce in Canada. The current outbreak is not related to a recent multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce.
  • CDC is advising that consumers do not eat any romaine lettuce because no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified.
  • This investigation is ongoing, and CDC will provide more information as it becomes available.


The Food and Drug Administration statement is here;

From the agency:

The FDA is conducting a traceback investigation to determine the source of the romaine lettuce eaten by people who became sick.  Additionally, FDA and states are conducting laboratory analysis of romaine lettuce samples potentially linked to the current outbreak.

Google Trends showed a quick rise in searches for the terms “romaine,” along with associated search terms of “CDC, “warning,” “contamination” and more.

The broad CDC advisory is breathtaking in scope - urging consumers not to eat “any” romaine and asking retailers and restaurants not to serve or sell any.

In a United Fresh Produce Association member alert that hit inboxes about 3:45 Eastern, the association said both CDC and the FDA gave food industry associations “brief notice” that they were issuing a public advisory telling consumers not to eat romaine lettuce and food industry not to sell or serve romaine due to an outbreak of E.coli 0157-H7. 

“Despite our urging that industry could clearly identify some sources of romaine coming onto the market as not related to the outbreak, CDC and FDA also are requesting the voluntary withdrawal of romaine lettuce before it enters commerce. Retailers and restaurants are being advised to stop selling any and all romaine lettuce products immediately.”

The key to limiting damage is ending the broad warning is solving the outbreak, as United Fresh pointed out in its member alert:

“We are working aggressively with stakeholders to try to narrow the source of the outbreak so that FDA can withdraw this comprehensive advisory. If industry members receive a request from a regulator for traceback information, please respond as quickly as possible. We are working cooperatively with the CDC, FDA and state agencies to ensure public safety and bring romaine lettuce back on the market as soon as possible."

The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association issued a statement urging the FDA to determine the contamination as “quickly as possible.”

From the FFVA:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are advising consumers to avoid eating romaine lettuce because it may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and could make people sick. 

No grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been identified. 

The FDA is conducting a traceback investigation, and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association strongly urges the agency to determine the source of the contamination as quickly as possible.  
South Florida’s romaine harvest season starts in early November, so Florida product was not being harvested when people started becoming ill. However, it is unfortunate that anyone has become sick, and we remain concerned for those consumers. 

Safe production and handling of crops is the top priority for growers of Florida produce. They adhere to the highest mandatory food safety standards, testing and safeguards to ensure Florida produce is safe. They also open their operations to FDA representatives periodically for inspections.

TK: Where did the romaine lettuce come from? Will the cause/location of the outbreak be quickly found? Is the outbreak related in some way to concentrated animal feeding operations and/or irrigation water? We can only hope that CDC/FDA is close — days, not weeks or months — to finding the answers to all of those questions. 
 

 
Comments
Submitted by Steve Sprinkel on Fri, 11/23/2018 - 08:38

"The FDA urged today that all retailers of handgun ammunition pull all 9 MM and .45 caliber bullets as a precaution in light of the ongoing mortality."

We want government to protect public health and safety. That is why we pay for the FDA and fire departments. The allusion to assuring public safety by not offering ammunition illustrates uneven priorities and how impossible our expectations have become. Gun owners would be denied and deprived, but for the public good.

Perhaps we should take a better look at the food system we have allowed to develop in order to solve efficiency and precarious market realities. The consolidation of retail and in production ends up benefitting very few people. Then a recall of this magnitude arrives, including ingredients in salad mix (!), and every grower of Romaine lettuce is impacted. A lot of the lettuce near term will be disced prudently to get on to some other product. Small farmers with half an acre meant for farmers markets or local distribution will be challenged. I have a farm and a restaurant. I talked with my manager. She said just eliminate the question. Take away the temptation and the foolishness of fighting the ruling and public recognition. Eh.

But all this is not our fault. The cause is the big growers and shippers with giant processing and packing facilities shipping petri dish equivalents of bagged product where bacteria can multiply while being shipped 3000 miles under frequently unpredictable circumstances. No one is ready to say where the bad lettuce came from. So all the lettuce is bad.