A year later, romaine lettuce is again subject to a national recall.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this weekend issued a public health alert urging consumers not to eat and retailers and restaurants not to sell romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas, Calif., growing region because of possible E. coli contamination.
On Nov. 22, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) warned against consuming any wraps, sandwiches, prepackaged salad, salad kits or other products containing romaine lettuce from the Salinas area. The move followed a FSIS recall of 97,272 pounds of salad kits and bowls from Swedesboro, N.J.-based Missa Bay LLC, a subsidiary of Ready Pac Foods, on Nov. 21.
Items named in the Missa Bay recall included products under the Ready Pac Bistro and Bonduelle brands as well as private-label and store-brand products sold by Ahold Delhaize USA (Salad Singles brand), Albertsons Cos. (Signature Café, Signature Farms), Aldi (Little Salad Bar), BJ’s Wholesale Club (Ready Pac Bistro), Giant Eagle (Giant Eagle brand), Sam’s Club (Ready Pac Bistro), Target (Good & Gather) and Walmart (Marketside).
“Most romaine lettuce products at retail are labeled with a harvest location showing where they were grown. CDC and the FDA are advising that if this voluntary label indicates that the romaine lettuce was grown in Salinas, whether alone or with the name of another location, do not eat it. If the romaine does not have information about harvest region or does not indicate that it has been grown indoors (i.e. hydroponically and greenhouse-grown), throw it away or return it to the place of purchase,” FSIS said in a statement.
E. coli O157:H7 was identified in a package of Ready Pac Bistro Chicken Caesar Salad from an ill person’s home in Maryland and then linked to the multistate outbreak. (Photo:USDA-FSIS)
FSIS-regulated establishments are advised not to serve, ship, or sell any products that contain Salinas region-harvested romaine lettuce, including whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine and packages of pre-cut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix and Caesar salad. Retailers, restaurants, distributors and suppliers also shouldn’t serve, ship or sell any products if they’re unable to identify the source of romaine lettuce products.
The products in the Missa Bay recall bear establishment number “EST. 18502B” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to distribution sites in 22 states, including Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin.
As of the evening of Nov. 22, 40 people from 16 states have been infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7, according to the CDC. Twenty-eight hospitalizations have been reported, with five people developing hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported. lllnesses started on dates ranging from Sept. 24 to Nov. 11.
“The Maryland Department of Health identified E. coli O157:H7 in an unopened package of Ready Pac Bistro Chicken Caesar Salad collected from an ill person’s home in Maryland. Analysis of this salad, through whole genome sequencing (WGS), has linked strain E. coli O157:H7 to three Maryland cases and the multistate outbreak,” the FDA stated. “The FDA and state partners are conducting a traceback investigation to trace romaine exposures to the source. Preliminary information indicates that ill people in Maryland were exposed to romaine lettuce harvested in Salinas, Calif. FDA is deploying investigators to the farms in question to try to determine the source and extent of the contamination. More information will be forthcoming as the investigation proceeds. Additionally, state partners are conducting laboratory analyses of romaine lettuce samples from case patients potentially linked to the outbreak.”
As defined by the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association Romaine Taskforce Report, the Salinas growing region includes Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey counties in California, the FDA said.
“It’s important to note that, at this time, no illnesses outside of those in Maryland are connected with Ready Pac Foods and that the romaine lettuce linked to these new cases is not affiliated with our company. According to the CDC, ‘No common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified,’” Ready Pac parent Bonduelle, based in Irwindale, Calif., said in a statement on Saturday. “It was reported that whole genome sequencing has revealed that the current cases match the romaine E. coli strain from the Adam’s Brothers Farms outbreak identified last November.”
On Nov. 20, 2018, the FDA and CDC issued a blanket warning to consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce and throw away any product they may have because of risk of infection with E. coli O157:H7. Retail stores, restaurants and foodservice operators also were warned to not put out for sale or serve any romaine lettuce, including salads and salad mixes containing romaine.
About a week later, the agencies announced that, after talks with major leafy greens producers and distributors and produce industry trade groups, a voluntary labeling agreement was instituted. Growers, processors, distributors and retailers agreed to “clearly and prominently” label all individually packaged romaine products to identify the growing region and the harvest date for romaine lettuce. Also to indicate the growing region, they agreed to label at the point of sale when it’s not possible for romaine lettuce suppliers to label the package, such as for individual, unwrapped whole heads of romaine lettuce sold in retail stores.