You Can Eat Romaine Lettuce, But Not From California

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new voluntary labeling agreement with romaine producers and distributors who have pledged to label their romaine products with the region where grown and approximate harvest date. This allowed the FDA to lift the warning not to eat romaine lettuce, letting it return to the market, with the exception of romaine harvested in California.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the FDA issued a health warning asking not to consume any type of romaine lettuce due to an outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 that has sickened 43 people in 12 states.

Health agencies stated that that romaine lettuce associated with the outbreak came from areas of California that grow romaine lettuce over the summer months, andt 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.

“There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine lettuce that is certain to have been harvested from areas outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California. For example, romaine lettuce harvested from areas that include, but are not limited to the desert growing region near Yuma, the California desert growing region near Imperial County and Riverside County, the state of Florida, and Mexico, does not appear to be related to the current outbreak,” stated the FDA in a press release.

Several produce associations agreed to support this initiative and recommended that all industry members throughout the supply chain to abide by this labeling program.

USDA and FDA Team Up to Align Produce Safety Requirements

“In addition to the labeling agreement, the industry and FDA have agreed to work together to continue improvement in the tracking and tracing of romaine lettuce through the supply chain. We recognize that the greatest challenge we face is motivating case identification to be retained by end customers at point of sale, thus enhancing all of our ability to quickly trace produce from point of sale to the grower,” the United Fresh Produce Association said in a press release.

The association added that “case labeling today often provides this vital information, but too often that information is not captured and retained at point of sale, thus complicating trace back. Improved data capture at all supply chain points is a prerequisite to leveraging technology that can quickly illuminate supply chain pathways.”