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FDA In Brief: E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce grown in certain California counties ends, FDA’s investigation into the source of contamination continues

FDA In Brief: E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce grown in certain California counties ends, FDA’s investigation into the source of contamination continues

January 9, 2019

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"Upholding the safety of the foods we eat and feed to our families is a critical element of the FDA’s public health mission. We routinely work with local and state health departments to monitor emerging safety signals possibly indicating when a food available for purchase in the U.S. marketplace may be unsafe for public consumption. This ongoing work continues, even during this partial lapse in federal funding. Our ability to monitor for and respond to emerging food safety issues is maintained through the efforts of a very dedicated workforce that’s fully committed to this mission," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. "Today the CDC announced that the Fall 2018 outbreak of E. coli associated with romaine lettuce from certain California counties appears to have ended. While we’re grateful that no additional illnesses have been reported since Dec. 4, the FDA’s work identifying factors that led to this outbreak continues. Our teams have collected environmental samples and are working with growers in an effort to pinpoint when and how the romaine lettuce became contaminated. Our ongoing investigation into this matter will soon come to a close and we believe that its findings will help to prevent future outbreaks in leafy greens. In the meantime, we’re pleased that the leafy greens industry worked quickly to remove potentially contaminated romaine lettuce from the market and has already taken steps to provide consumers with important information about the specific source of romaine lettuce on packaging, via point of sale signs or by other means. We will continue providing public updates on this investigation."

On Nov. 20, 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced an investigation, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local partners, into a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 linked to romaine lettuce. At that time, the FDA recommended that consumers avoid eating romaine lettuce and industry committed to withdraw potentially contaminated product from the market until public health authorities could ensure an end to the outbreak or until the FDA identified a specific source of contamination.

By Dec. 13, 2018, the FDA’s investigation yielded results indicating that the geographic area where contaminated romaine lettuce may have been sourced from could be narrowed to growing areas in three California counties. Additionally, a sample analyzed by the CDC from the sediment of an agricultural water reservoir at one ranch in Santa Barbara County, California tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 – prompting the grower to voluntarily recall products that had come into contact with that water. These findings allowed the FDA to modify its recommendations to consumers at the time.

Today, the CDC announced that the Fall 2018 E. coli outbreak associated with romaine lettuce appears to have concluded with no new illnesses reported since Dec. 4, 2018. Currently, there are no recommendations for consumers to avoid any romaine lettuce on the market. Although the outbreak appears to be over, the FDA’s investigation into the contamination is ongoing. We have obtained environmental samples that will undergo further analysis and are continuing to work with growers to determine how and when the romaine lettuce became contaminated. The FDA will share more information about the investigation as it unfolds.

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The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.