( File photo )

A recent E. coli outbreak “likely associated with romaine lettuce” has come to light, with the Food and Drug Administration announcing there was no actionable information to alert consumers.

The outbreak, in which 23 people became sick from E. coli O157:H7, appears to be over, and the FDA’s “active investigation has reached its end,” according to the agency’s Oct. 31 notice. The FDA is not recommending that consumers to avoid romaine.

“However, our investigation, along with previous outbreaks linked to romaine, reinforces the recommendations that we have made to the leafy green industry: producers must continue to review their practices and improve traceability to enhance food safety,” Frank Yiannas, the FDA deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response, said in the notice. “We remain committed to improving the safety of leafy greens and know that all levels of government and the supply chain from farm to retail must continue to work together to keep consumers safe.”

Investigators visited farms in California’s Central Coast region, directed by information from the traceback investigation, but no samples turned up a match for the outbreak strain, according to the FDA.

By the time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted the FDA about the E. coli “illness cluster” in mid-September and romaine was identified as the likely source, “the available data at the time indicated that the outbreak was not ongoing and romaine lettuce eaten by sick people was past its shelf life and no longer available for sale,” according to the FDA notice.

“The FDA is communicating details about the outbreak at this time to help ensure full awareness by the public and to highlight the ongoing importance of industry actions to help ensure the safety of leafy greens,” according to the notice.

People became ill in 12 states, with the most (8 cases) in California:

Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

The investigation included the FDA, CDC and state and local health agencies.

The first illness reported was on July 12, and the last was Sept. 8. The CDC began its investigation on Sept. 17, according to the FDA notice.


California LGMA statement

According to a statement from the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, multiple tests conducted at central California farms were negative for E. coli.

“The leafy greens industry’s goal is always to produce safe food,” Dan Sutton, general manager of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange and chairman of the California LGMA, said in the statement. “We continue to work alongside public health agencies to improve the safety of leafy greens and to learn everything we can about how to improve our food safety practices.” 

The LGMA plans to use any information from the investigation to help “improve the mandatory food safety practices that are at the heart of our comprehensive food safety program,” according to the statement.

The California LGMA has formed new subcommittees with industry experts to address specific areas of leafy green production, according to the statement.

“Our thoughts are with the individuals who were impacted by this outbreak and we are committed to doing everything possible to prevent future incidents,” according to the LGMA’s statement.

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