FDA clears Romaine sales from non-affected regions

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It said romaine from elsewhere should soon be labelled with harvest dates and regions so people know it's safe to eat.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state authorities, continues to investigate a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections associated with consumption of romaine lettuce in the U.S. As of November 26, 2018, this outbreak has resulted in 43 people becoming ill in 12 states, with the last reported illness onset date being October 31, 2018. Laboratory analysis indicates that the illnesses reported in this outbreak are genetically related to illnesses reported in a previous E. coli outbreakfrom December 2017 that affected consumers in both Canada and the U.S. This tells us that the same strain of E. coli is causing illness in Canada and the United States as was seen in 2017 and it suggests there may be a reoccurring source of contamination. These recent illnesses indicate that contaminated romaine lettuce may still be on the market, including in restaurants, grocery stores and any establishments that serve food.

If consumers, retailers and food service facilities can't determine whether the romaine was grown outside California, they should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one got sick, according to a lengthy statement from Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Monday. It says romaine from those places wasn't yet shipping when the illnesses began.

In Canada, based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to romaine lettuce has been identified as a source of the outbreak, but the cause of contamination has not been identified. But it has advised the Canadian food industry, including importers, not to import romaine lettuce from the suspect areas identified by the FDA until further notice.

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Since romaine has a shelf life of about 21 days, health officials said last week they believed contaminated romaine could still be on the market or in people's homes.

Symptoms of this E. coli strain often emerge three to four days after exposure after consumption, according to the CDC, and include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. That outbreak was traced to the Yuma, Arizona, growing region, but investigators never conclusively determined the precise source. The FDA will also start to sample romaine lettuce for contamination throughout the food supply chain.

In the USA, the FDA is advising people not to eat romaine that doesn't have clear labelling information stating where the produce is from.

The CDC has said that these cases are genetically unrelated to another E. coli outbreak earlier this year that killed five people and sickened 200. "You as the consumer have the voting power with your dollar to say that my health and the health of my family is more important than someone trying to make excuses to continue to sell this". It didn't matter if it was chopped, whole head or part of a mix.

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