Number of illnesses rises in E. coli outbreak linked to Salinas romaine

November 26 , 2019

The number of illnesses and hospitalizations caused by an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, California, has risen.

In a Nov. 26 update, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that the total number of illnesses had risen to 67. There were 40 illnesses in when the initial outbreak announcement was made on Nov. 22.

Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations has risen from 28 to 39. No deaths have been reported in connection with the outbreak.

In total 19 states have reported illnesses. The most recent illness onset date is Nov. 14. 

The FDA has recommended that consumers not eat any of the leafy green from the region. 

Investigators are being deployed to the farms in question to try to determine the source and extent of the contamination. The Salinas region includes Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey counties.

Click here for more information from the FDA.

Hong Kong suspension

The Hong Kong Government recently announced that it has suspended imports of romaine lettuce grown in Salinas. The suspension is effective immediately and applies to the import and sale of romaine lettuce in any form from the area.

Back in April 2018 and November 2019, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory temporarily banned the import and sale of romaine lettuce from Arizona and California, respectively, because these products were associated with an E.coli outbreak.

California farmers "devastated"

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement said on Friday that farmers are "devasted" by the latest outbreak, which comes exactly one year after another romaine-linked E. coli outbreak.

It said the announcement is "being met with frustration and heartbreak by California lettuce farmers".

“No one is more frustrated than the producers of leafy greens that outbreaks continue to be associated with our products,” said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California LGMA, a food safety program created in 2007 to prevent foodborne illnesses caused by lettuce and leafy greens.

“We are devastated as a leafy greens community when this happens,” said Dan Sutton, a farmer from Oceano, California.

“Our thoughts go to those affected by this outbreak. But that’s why we want to continue to work with governmental agencies to learn why this is happening so that we can improve.”

Horsfall said that romaine producers will be working closely with their customers to make sure all product from
Salinas is removed from marketing channels.

But he emphasized that romaine from other growing areas is safe for consumption. These areas include Yuma, Phoenix, Southern Arizona, Northern Arizona, Northern California, Santa Maria, Southern California, Imperial Valley, Coachella and Central Valley

Product from Mexico and other states is also cleared. Hydroponically and greenhouse-grown romaine is also not implicated in the outbreak.

“For the past year, producers have been voluntarily labeling romaine lettuce with information on harvest date and growing region,” explained Horsfall.

“Today, this information provides consumers, retailers and foodservice operators with assurances the products they are purchasing have been identified as safe for consumption.

"We are hopeful these actions by industry will minimize withdrawal of safe product from stores and restaurants and reduce food waste."

The current outbreak is occurring at a time when the production of leafy greens in central California is transitioning to growing regions in southern California and Arizona.

It appears that romaine lettuce involved in this outbreak was likely harvested in the Salinas Valley growing area in September and October, the California LGMA said.

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