A note to consumers at a Kansas City-area store lets them know the store is not stocking romaine from the Salinas, Calif., region. ( Amelia Freidline )

Federal agencies have increased the number of cases in the E. coli outbreak linked to Salinas, Calif., romaine, and investigators continue to seek the exact source of the lettuce.

The Food and Drug Administration continue to advise consumers to avoid all romaine products, including whole heads, hearts of romaine, and salad kits or mixes that include the lettuce from Salinas. A test on an unopened Ready Pac Foods Bistro Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics Caesar Salad obtained from a Maryland patient included romaine that tested positive for the same strain from patients in other states. But people with E. coli in other states don’t recall eating that salad.

Epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback information indicates the lettuce came from Salinas, according to the FDA.

“No common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nov. 26 updates from the FDA and CDC increased the number of patients in the outbreak from 40 to 67, and added three states to the list of where they live. The number of hospitalized patients went from 28 to 39 in the update. The previous update was Nov. 22. The most recent case was reported Nov. 21.

The FDA again reported that hydroponic- and greenhouse-grown lettuce is safe to eat, as well as any romaine grown outside of the Salinas area, which includes Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito and Monterey counties. The FDA advises consumers to check romaine labels, which should have the harvest region listed, a voluntary addition following a similar outbreak just before Thanksgiving 2018.

Health officials in states that have patients in the outbreak are testing lettuce samples purchased by the patients, if those samples are still available. 


Canada mandates proof of origin

As with the 2018 fall E. coli outbreak linked to romaine, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is requiring a proof of origin for imports of romaine from the U.S.
According to Canada’s Fruit and Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp., the CFIA requires a new declaration process in the import procedure.

“Their website states: Shipments of romaine lettuce from California must be accompanied by a letterhead, on a separate page, showing a Proof of Origin with the date of signing and the signature of the exporter declaring that the lettuce was not harvested in the Salinas, California, growing region,” DRC President and CEO Fred Webber wrote in an e-mail to industry members.

Webber said the DRC has been contacted numerous times by importers who have paid for romaine that they cannot sell. 

“In our previous notes to you, we urged all stakeholders to be calm,” Webber said in the e-mail. “It seems many of you have, but we are seeing indications that others are seeking to recover losses from their trading partners.”

Most disputes arising from the question of who accepts the loss in such cases will be “decided based on who owned the product when it became unmerchantable,” according to the DRC e-mail.

In simple terms, Webber said, in an F.O.B. sale, the shipper owns the loss before it’s loaded on a truck, but the buy owns the loss after the truck is loaded.

“It is understandable that companies do not want to accept a loss they did not cause,” Webber said. “But in a case like this where neither party to the transaction may be at fault, the decision must be made based on long-standing principles like the warranty of merchantability, Acts of God or force majeure.”