PHILIPSBURG–The United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has informed the Inspectorate of Public Health in St. Maarten that it has further refined its “trace back investigation” into the potentially E. coli bacteria contaminated lettuce, which consumers were advised to not consume, down to the farm level.
The Inspectorate said in a press release issued on Friday that the FDA had indicated on December 13 that the list of romaine lettuce has been narrowed down and consumers and retailers are urged to avoid lettuce from the US California counties of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara.
The strain of E. coli O157:H7 causing the current outbreak was identified in one sample collected in the sediment of an agricultural water reservoir at one ranch owned and operated by Adam Bros. Farming, Inc., in Santa Barbara County. The strain isolated from this sample matched those collected from ill persons in this outbreak.
San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties in California have been removed from the list at this time. Other growing areas – for example, Florida, Mexico and the desert growing regions near Yuma, Imperial County and Riverside County – do not appear to be related to the current outbreak.
The FDA has issued the following updated recommendation as part of its investigation and public warning: based on discussions with producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be voluntarily labelled with a harvest location and a harvest date or labelled as being hydroponically or greenhouse-grown. Consumers may notice that romaine lettuce is beginning to be available in stores with this new labelling.
“If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it,” the FDA warns.
Romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Barbara counties in California does not appear to be related to the current outbreak and need not be avoided. Hydroponically and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these sources, the FDA informed the inspectorate.
The Inspectorate said it remains in close contact with the FDA and US Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Importers and re-sellers are informed and the necessary spot checks are performed,” the Inspectorate said.
The potentially contaminated lettuce was found in most supermarkets and restaurants in the country in November. Consumers were advised to not consume and to discard already-purchased romaine lettuce and to wash and sanitise drawers and shelves in the refrigerator where the lettuce was stored. Restaurants were also strongly advised not to serve any romaine lettuce, including salads and salad mixes containing romaine.