Some romaine lettuce safe to eat again, FDA says

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The agency said Monday the romaine linked to the outbreak appears to be from the California's Central Coast region.

"The FDA believes it was critically important to have a "clean break" in the romaine supply available to consumers in the United States in order to purge the market of potentially contaminated romaine lettuce related to the current outbreak", the statement said. Twenty-two people in Canada were also sickened.

The most recent outbreak has been tied back to nationally distributed romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Ariz., that was likely contaminated by irrigation water, as the same strain of E. coli that sickened these 210 people was also detected in the canal used for irrigation.

Romaine harvesting recently began shifting from California's Central Coast to winter growing areas, primarily Arizona, Florida, Mexico and California's Imperial Valley.

Also safe are romaine lettuces grown hydroponically, those grown in greenhouses as well as those grown in Mexico during the winter months and smaller quantities in other states.

The labelling arrangement was worked out as the produce industry called on the FDA to quickly narrow the scope of its warning so it wouldn't have to waste freshly harvested romaine. The FDA says it has been talking with industry officials on product labeling that will include source of origin and date to help deal with any potential future recalls.

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The FDA said the industry committed to making the labelling standard for romaine and to consider longer-term labelling options for other leafy greens.

"Romaine as a category has had a year that's been unfortunate", Whitaker said. Romaine from these sources is safe to eat, the FDA said.

Canadian officials are advising the food industry and importers not to import romaine from the California region identified by the FDA.

"If consumers, retailers and food service facilities are unable to identify that romaine lettuce products are not affected - which means determining that the products were grown outside the California regions that appear to be implicated in the current outbreak investigation - we urge that these products not be purchased, or if purchased, be discarded or returned to the place of purchase".

People of all ages are at risk of becoming infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, according to the FDA. 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. But officials in Canada identified romaine as a common source of illnesses there.

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