November 27, 2018
After advising Americans to immediately discard all romaine lettuce last week before Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now rolling back their national ban, having located the source of the third lettuce-based E. coli outbreak this year.
The CDC traced the ongoing outbreak back to romaine lettuce grown in the Central Coastal region of California, according to an update posted by the federal agency. So if you can confirm that your romaine that has not been grown in that part of California, it should be perfectly safe to eat.
Currently, 43 people in 12 different states are confirmed as having fallen ill with E. coli poisoning due to the contamination. Federal investigators are still working on containing the incident, so there's an important caveat to note—the CDC says romaine grown in Arizona and Florida (two states with growing seasons in full swing) is safe to eat, but if you can't clearly identify where your romaine came from, you should continue to avoid it.
"Check bags or boxes of romaine lettuce for a label indicating where the lettuce was harvested," the CDC says. "Romaine lettuce labeled with a harvest region outside of the Central Coastal growing regions of northern and central California (such as the desert growing region near Yuma, the California desert growing region near Imperial County and Riverside County, the state of Florida, and Mexico) is not linked to this outbreak."
The CDC warning still applies to all forms of romaine lettuce, including pre-bagged lettuce mixes and prepared foods found on this list. If you have romaine lettuce sourced from coastal California in your fridge (or if you aren't sure where it is from), the CDC also recommends that you fully disinfect your refrigerator and any other areas which may have come in contact with the bacterium.
While this blanket ban was in effect for just about a week, federal investigators took more than five months to locate the true source of an earlier E. coli outbreak in Arizona this summer—leaving many Americans wondering if federal safety agencies are as effective as they should be.
2018 has become a record year for food recalls and foodborne illness, overall: the CDC has issued more warnings and recalls this year than in any of the last decade. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner in charge of overseeing the FDA, says that this trend is due to the fact that investigators are getting better at identifying bacterial outbreaks and their sources, rather than poor food safety conditions nationwide.