Romaine Lettuce Linked to E. Coli Outbreak Likely Was Grown in California, FDA Chief Says

November 22, 2018 Updated: November 22, 2018

Romaine lettuce linked to the multi-state E. coli outbreak may have been grown in California, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

On Thanksgiving Day, he tweeted that his agency is still working to figure out the source of the outbreak, which has left nearly three dozen people sickened, including 13 who have been hospitalized.

“FDA continues to investigate source of e.coli outbreak traced to Romaine. We believe it’s related to lettuce harvested from California,” Gottlieb tweeted. “We hope to have more information by Monday isolating the growing region. New crop will soon harvest from other regions.”

That comes two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent out a warning, saying that all romaine lettuce is suspect and shouldn’t be eaten. Officials said any romaine should be thrown out until further notice.

“Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the CDC wrote in a notice on its website on Nov. 20.

“This advice includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad,” the CDC noted. “If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.”

Retailers and restaurants have been urged not to sell any romaine until more is known.

Illnesses have been reported in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the CDC said. In Canada, 18 people have been sickened with the same strain of E. coli in Quebec and Ontario, officials said.

But the FDA said it is working to trace the source of the E. coli-tainted lettuce.

“At this stage in the investigation, the most efficient way to ensure that contaminated romaine [lettuce] is off the market would be for [the] industry to voluntarily withdraw product from the market, and to withhold distribution of romaine until public health authorities can ensure the outbreak is over and/or until FDA can identify a specific source of contamination,” the FDA stated.

On Nov. 21, Gottlieb wrote on Twitter that the FDA said it is working with “the California and Arizona Leafy Green Marketing Agreements,” which support the agency’s “advice to voluntarily withdraw potentially contaminated romaine from the market.”

Symptoms of E. coli include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting; some people might have a fever.

“Most people get better within five to seven days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening,” the CDC says on its website.

“Most people with an [E. coli] infection start feeling sick three to four days after eating or drinking something that contains the bacteria. However, illnesses can start anywhere from a day to 10 days after exposure. Contact your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine,” the agency advises.