The Food and Drug Administration continues to investigate an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce grown in California’s Central Coast region.
The FDA released an update on the investigation Nov. 30, but there appears to be no information that would lead investigators to the specific area where the lettuce was grown. Investigating agencies, including the FDA, are still focusing on the five counties named Nov. 30: Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura.
“Traceback activities in this romaine lettuce investigation are ongoing and new information continues to be gathered,” according to the Nov. 30 FDA update. “Analysis of information available through Nov. 30 has not narrowed the potential sources of contaminated romaine lettuce to a specific farm, processor, shipper or distribution center.”
The agency reiterated its warning that consumers avoid all romaine products that don’t include new labels that identify the growing region and the date harvested of the lettuce. Romaine processors and packers agreed to the labels in the six days that the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested all romaine products from the commerce stream.
“Given the widespread distribution of farms, processors, shippers and distribution centers identified by our traceback, the FDA continues to recommend that consumers not eat romaine lettuce grown in the identified counties until the investigation identifies a source or sources to explain the outbreak,” according to the FDA. “Additional counties may be added or removed as the FDA romaine investigation progresses.
The FDA on Nov. 20 announced the outbreak and advised consumers to avoid all romaine. The agency amended its advisory on Nov. 26, saying that all romaine outside the targeted California area was safe to eat, including greenhouse, hydroponic, and lettuce from Mexico and California's Imperial and Riverside counties.
Romaine shippers and processors have said both bulk and processed value-added items such as salad kits will begin appearing on shelves Dec. 2. Not all stores will have the lettuce at the same time, with eastern U.S. retailers receiving shipments soon after Dec. 2.
The number of E. coli cases in the outbreak remains at 43. According to a Nov. 29 update by the Public Health Agency of Canada, cases there have increased by two, for a total of 24. Canadian health officials are also cautioning consumers to avoid U.S. romaine unless it is labeled as grown outside the six targeted California counties.