Health officials believe they've located the source of an E.coli outbreak in lettuce that made people sick across several states.
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. Though, health officials from the FDA and CDC have potentially identified the strain, they are not sure how much lettuce has been contaminated.
The vast majority of the romaine on the market was being grown in the Central Coast region of California at the time of the outbreak, according to the statement.
The agency on Monday said romaine recently harvested in Arizona, Florida, Mexico, and California's Imperial Valley is OK to eat. "One outcome could be to extend the commitment for labeling for origin and date of harvest to other leafy greens". USA investigators never specified which salad green might be to blame for those illnesses, which happened around the same time of year as the current outbreak.
The agency's announcement follows a stern warning issued two days before Thanksgiving, by the CDC, telling consumers nationwide not only to stop eating romaine lettuce, but also to scrub and sanitize drawers or shelves where it has been stored. The involved areas include the Central Coast growing regions of central and northern California.
As of Monday, the FDA said the outbreak has resulted in 43 people becoming ill in 12 states, with the last reported illness onset date on October 31.
The E. coli outbreak announced just before Thanksgiving follows one in the spring that sickened more than 200 people and killed five, and another previous year that sickened 25 and killed one. Hydroponic lettuce and lettuce grown in greenhouses also do not appear to be affected by the outbreak.
Teressa Lopez of the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement also said federal regulation can ensure greater compliance, even though the industry agreement has stricter measures. The FDA's Gottlieb has said the leading suspect is contaminated canal water used by multiple farms.
Earlier this year, the situation was almost reversed: Some in the industry started putting stickers on product saying the lettuce was from California to differentiate from the Yuma region, though officials weren't able to pinpoint the problem to Yuma until right at the end of the season.
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.
"Romaine as a category has had a year that's been unfortunate", Whitaker said.
The FDA said the produce industry also agreed to consider longer-term labeling options that would help identify and trace leafy greens.
The leafy greens industry also launched a task force after the deadly Yuma outbreak past year, an effort that resulted in some significant changes to growing practices, including a greater distance required between greens growing fields and animal livestock operations.