UPDATE: CDC Says Romaine Is Safe, Except for Lettuce Sourced From This California Region
UPDATE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reissued a warning for consumers to continue avoiding romaine harvested from Northern and Central California after nine additional cases of E.coli poisoning have occurred since November 26. A total of 52 Americans have been infected with E. coli due to the current outbreak, and this is the third time that federal safety agencies have had to ask consumers to avoid romaine in 2018.
Illnesses have been recorded in 15 different states, according to the CDC's latest count: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
No deaths have been reported as of yet, but nineteen people have been hospitalized with serious complications related to E. coli poisoning, including two cases where a rare form of kidney failure, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, occurred.
Still worried about E. coli? Read on:
Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration lifted their national bans on romaine lettuce late last month and pinpointed the source of this outbreak as stemming from the coastal growing regions within California, where farmers have been recently harvesting romaine lettuce. The latest statement from the FDA alleged that the outbreak was spread by 10 different distributors, 12 distinct growers, and 11 different farms in the region in question—but the FDA is also unable to name a sole source of the E. coli contamination at this time.
While there's not currently a blanket ban in effect, federal agents are asking shoppers to refrain from eating romaine unless they can clearly identify where it was sourced. The additional nine cases of poisoning indicates that this outbreak could worsen if shoppers aren't taking certain precautions.
Symptoms of E. coli poisoning normally begin 72 hours after eating contaminated food, and can include intense abdominal cramps, heavy vomiting, nausea, high fever, and diarrhea.
This romaine outbreak marks an all-time high of 50 plus warnings and recalls for American shoppers this year, and federal agencies are currently working on methods of closely regulating produce in the future.
After advising Americans to immediately discard all romaine lettuce last week before Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now rolling back their national ban, having located the source of the third lettuce-based E. coli outbreak this year.
The CDC traced the ongoing outbreak back to romaine lettuce grown in the Central Coastal region of California, according to an update posted by the federal agency. So if you can confirm that your romaine that has not been grown in that part of California, it should be perfectly safe to eat.
Currently, 43 people in 12 different states are confirmed as having fallen ill with E. coli poisoning due to the contamination. Federal investigators are still working on containing the incident, so there's an important caveat to note—the CDC says romaine grown in Arizona and Florida (two states with growing seasons in full swing) is safe to eat, but if you can't clearly identify where your romaine came from, you should continue to avoid it.
"Check bags or boxes of romaine lettuce for a label indicating where the lettuce was harvested," the CDC says. "Romaine lettuce labeled with a harvest region outside of the Central Coastal growing regions of northern and central California (such as the desert growing region near Yuma, the California desert growing region near Imperial County and Riverside County, the state of Florida, and Mexico) is not linked to this outbreak."
The CDC warning still applies to all forms of romaine lettuce, including pre-bagged lettuce mixes and prepared foods found on this list. If you have romaine lettuce sourced from coastal California in your fridge (or if you aren't sure where it is from), the CDC also recommends that you fully disinfect your refrigerator and any other areas which may have come in contact with the bacterium.
While this blanket ban was in effect for just about a week, federal investigators took more than five months to locate the true source of an earlier E. coli outbreak in Arizona this summer—leaving many Americans wondering if federal safety agencies are as effective as they should be.
2018 has become a record year for food recalls and foodborne illness, overall: the CDC has issued more warnings and recalls this year than in any of the last decade. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner in charge of overseeing the FDA, says that this trend is due to the fact that investigators are getting better at identifying bacterial outbreaks and their sources, rather than poor food safety conditions nationwide.