November 4, 2019

Leafy greens organization reacts to recent E. coli situation

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has issued a reaction to an Oct. 31 U.S. Food and Drug Administration release of information about an inactive E. coli outbreak involving 23 illnesses possibly associated with romaine lettuce occurring between July 12 and Sept. 8, 2019.

According to LGMA, “no public health agency is advising consumers to avoid eating romaine and no suspected product remains in marketing channels. According to the FDA, its investigation has reached its end and the outbreak appears to be over.”

According to the FDA, “When romaine lettuce was identified as the likely source of the outbreak, the available data at the time indicated that the outbreak was not ongoing and romaine lettuce eaten by sick people was past its shelf life and no longer available for sale.”

“The leafy greens industry’s goal is always to produce safe food. We continue to work alongside public health agencies to improve the safety of leafy greens and to learn everything we can about how to improve our food safety practices,” said Dan Sutton, chairman, LGMA.

“When investigators first learned of this issue they immediately began working with growers to help them identify if romaine was the source of this outbreak,” said Sutton. “Traceback information was instrumental in leading investigators to farms in central California that supplied product which may have been consumed by some of the 23 individuals sickened in this event.”

The FDA is reporting their investigation did not identify a common source or point where contamination occurred. Extensive tests conducted on farms by FDA were all negative for traces of E. coli.

The LGMA will use any information gathered in this investigation to help us improve the mandatory food safety practices that are at the heart of our comprehensive food safety program. To further strengthen its role in preventing foodborne illness, the LGMA has appointed industry experts to serve on a series of new Subcommittees that have been formed to address specific areas involved in the production of leafy greens.

Our thoughts are with the individuals who were impacted by this outbreak and we are committed to doing everything possible to prevent future incidents.

“On Oct. 31, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shared news of a recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, involving 23 illnesses, that was likely associated with romaine lettuce. No deaths were reported. The active investigation has reached its end and the outbreak appears to be over. The FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control did not identify actionable information for consumers during this investigation. Additionally, when romaine lettuce was identified as the likely source of the outbreak, the available data at the time indicated that the outbreak was not ongoing and romaine lettuce eaten by sick people was past its shelf life and no longer available for sale. The FDA is communicating details about the outbreak at this time to help ensure full awareness by the public and to highlight the ongoing importance of industry actions to help ensure the safety of leafy greens. Federal health officials do not believe there is a current or ongoing risk to public health.

CDC notified the FDA of this illness cluster in mid-September 2019 and the agency promptly initiated a traceback investigation. The FDA, CDC, along with state and local partners, investigated the illnesses associated with the outbreak. A total of 23 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 were reported from 12 states: Arizona (3), California (8), Florida (1), Georgia (1), Illinois (2), Maryland (1), North Carolina (1), Nevada (1), New York (1), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (2) and South Carolina (1). Eleven people were hospitalized and no deaths were reported. Illnesses started on dates ranging from July 12, 2019 to Sept. 8, 2019. No illnesses were reported after CDC began investigating the outbreak on Sept. 17, 2019.

Investigators were sent to visit farms located in California’s central coast region which were identified through the traceback investigation. They collected and tested many environmental samples, and the outbreak strain was not identified. While romaine lettuce is the likely cause of the outbreak, the investigation did not identify a common source or point where contamination occurred. Since the outbreak strain was not detected in samples collected from farms during the traceback investigation, and there have been no new cases since Sept. 8, 2019, the outbreak appears to be over.

The FDA remains committed to improving the safety of leafy greens and traceability from farm to fork.”