- Shutterstock/Pj Aun
- Romaine lettuce is now safe to eat, as long as it was not grown in northern and central California, the FDA announced Monday.
- Major romaine lettuce producers and distributors will begin labeling lettuce with its harvest location and date. If lettuce is unlabeled, the FDA says it should not be eaten and instead be thrown away.
- Romaine lettuce has been linked to an E. coli outbreak that resulted in 43 reported illnesses across 12 states in the US, as well as 22 people in Canada who have become ill, as of Monday.
Romaine lettuce is back on the menu.
On Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that romaine lettuce not grown in northern and central California is safe to eat.
The romaine has been linked to an E. coli outbreak that resulted in 43 reported illnesses across 12 states in the United States, as well as 22 people in Canada who have become ill, as of Monday.
Major romaine lettuce producers and distributors will begin labeling lettuce with its harvest location and date to ensure that the vegetables were not contaminated by E. coli. Specific counties where the romaine linked to the outbreak was harvested include Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Ventura, the FDA announced on Wednesday.
If the lettuce is labeled and not from northern and central California, it is safe to eat; if it is not labeled, the FDA is advising against buying or eating the lettuce.
“The FDA believes it was critically important to have a ‘clean break’ in the romaine supply available to consumers in the US in order to purge the market of potentially contaminated romaine lettuce related to the current outbreak,” the FDA said in a statement. “This appears to have been accomplished through the market withdrawal request of Nov. 20, 2018.”
On November 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told people across the US to stop eating and get rid of romaine lettuce in all forms. At that point, at least 32 people in 11 states had reported E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce starting in October, according to the CDC.
Food poisoning outbreaks have cost the romaine lettuce industry millions of dollars so far in 2017. In April, the FDA revealed that romaine lettuce harvested in the Yuma, Arizona, region was contaminated with E. coli in an outbreak that left five people dead and sickened at least 210.
The outbreak sent romaine lettuce sales plummeting more than 40% in the weeks after the CDC told people to throw away all types of romaine. Romaine lettuce sales are down by more than $71 million so far in 2018, according to Nielsen data.
Despite the rough year, Bill Marler, an attorney who specializes in food-poisoning cases, says there’s no clear reason why romaine has been at the center of two major E. coli outbreaks.
“I think it’s just, romaine’s getting a bad draw,” Marler said. “It could have just as easily happened to other kinds of lettuce or other types of leafy greens, such as spinach.”