The good news is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rolled back its nationwide safety alert urging people not to eat romaine lettuce. The bad news is that they’ve identified the source of the E. coli outbreak, and it’s the lettuce farms of northern and central California.
“Our investigation at this point suggests that romaine lettuce associated with the outbreak comes from areas of California that grow romaine lettuce over the summer months,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a late Monday press release. “The outbreak appears to be related to ‘end of season’ romaine lettuce harvested from these areas. The involved areas include the Central Coast growing regions of central and northern California.”
Lettuce grown in southern California, Arizona, Florida, and Mexico has now been declared safe to eat. The same goes for indoor and hydroponically grown lettuce. The alert against romaine lettuce was lifted after last week’s E. coli outbreak sickened 43 people in 12 different states, and effectively removed Caesar salad from Thanksgiving menus nationwide.
Going forward, your lettuce will be labeled so you’ll know where it was grown.
“Based on discussions with major producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date,” the FDA says. “Romaine lettuce entering the market can also be labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse grown.
“If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.”
To those of you who had central or northern California romaine lettuce in your fridge recently, the FDA recommends a thorough refrigerator cleaning.
This is certainly a black eye for California produce, an important component to our state economy being the fifth-largest in the world. But a recent E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce during late spring and early summer, which killed five people, was traced back to Arizona. This indicates the E. coli problem is unique to romaine lettuce rather than any specific lettuce-growing region.