FAQs on the E. coli Investigation

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control continues to advise consumers to avoid eating romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, AZ region because it is believed to be associated with a multi-state outbreak of E. Coli O157: H7. Below is some updated information from the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement to assist consumers in making purchase decisions.

Is it safe to buy romaine lettuce?

The latest consumer advisory from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is posted here. The government continues to identify the source of this multi-state outbreak of E. Coli 0157: H7 as romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, AZ region. Investigators have so far been unable to pinpoint a specific farm or brand of romaine that may have been responsible for this outbreak. The government is, therefore, continuing to advise consumers not to eat romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, AZ region.

CDC investigators have learned of additional people who became sick in this outbreak as late as April 13th.  Because the U.S. produce industry has quickly acted to remove any romaine grown in the Yuma, AZ region from marketing channels and because this is a highly perishable product, it is unlikely that any of the romaine lettuce responsible for this outbreak is still available for sale. However, public health agencies continue to advise consumers not to eat romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, AZ region.

What about romaine that was grown in California?

No illnesses have been linked to romaine lettuce grown in California.  Nearly all the romaine being sold in stores or served in restaurants today is from California.  As is normally the case at this time of year, lettuce production has shifted from the southern desert areas near Yuma, AZ to the central valleys of California near Salinas. Romaine harvest in the Yuma, AZ region has ceased.

How can consumers identify where their romaine was grown?

While it can be difficult for consumers to readily identify where the romaine they are buying was grown, retail grocery stores and restaurants are well aware of the public health warnings about romaine grown near Yuma, AZ. These companies and the leafy greens community are working together to take all possible precautions to ensure the safety of the products they grow and sell.  Many stores and restaurants are using signage to help inform consumers about the source of their romaine. Additionally, produce department and restaurant employees are trained to answer consumer questions about where romaine lettuce they are selling is grown.  These employees should be able to tell you where the romaine they are selling was grown. If they are unable to do so, consumers should avoid eating that romaine.

Why are more people becoming ill in this outbreak?

Public health agencies continue to investigate and learn more about this outbreak. As information comes into county health departments around the country, investigators are finding more people who are linked to this outbreak through a common pathogen. This doesn’t mean that people are continuing to get sick. Investigators are simply learning about additional people who became ill weeks ago. Investigators have been able to determine that all 84 of those known to have been sickened in this outbreak became ill between March 13th and April 13th.  This means the romaine lettuce that caused these illnesses was likely harvested sometime in March and shipped to stores and restaurants around the country. Because romaine lettuce is a perishable product, it is not likely the contaminated romaine is still available for sale.  Government investigators will continue to monitor illness dates for clues to help them understand more about this outbreak, what caused it and when it can be declared over.

Why haven’t government agencies declared this outbreak over and why are consumer advisories still in place?

Public health agencies are responsible for assuring the safety of our food supply. Until they can be absolutely certain there is no chance people could still be sickened by the romaine responsible for this outbreak, the government will continue to update consumers and provide advisories as needed.

What is being done by leafy greens producers to make sure outbreaks like this don’t happen again?

Maintaining consumer confidence in the safety of our products is of utmost importance to the leafy greens community. Our sympathies go out to those impacted by this outbreak.  Although California romaine has not been linked to this outbreak, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is committed to working with the government to learn how romaine lettuce came to be responsible for this outbreak and what can be done to prevent future outbreaks.

The LGMA’s food safety program is one of the most rigorous in today’s produce industry. The program includes mandatory government audits to verify a set of science-based food safety practices are being followed on leafy greens farms.

Consumers should know that companies who are part of the LGMA are required to be in 100 percent compliance with required LGMA food safety practices. Every LGMA member and their operations are inspected by government auditors, who verify more than 150 food safety checkpoints. These audits take place about 5 times per year for every LGMA member company.  On average, California produces over 31 million servings of romaine each day under this stringent government program.  We are always striving to make improvements to this system.

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