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FDA declares E. coli romaine outbreak over

Illustration by Pamela Riemenschneider

Statement from the Food and Drug Administration January 15, 2020:

As of January 15, 2020, the CDC reports that the outbreak appears to be over. Contaminated romaine from the Salinas, CA growing region that made people sick in this outbreak is likely no longer available. Consumers need not avoid romaine lettuce, or any other produce, from the Salinas, CA growing area.

FDA will continue its investigation into potential sources and contributing factors that led to the outbreak in order to inform future prevention efforts.

FDA, CDC, and California health and agriculture authorities concluded their investigation of the common grower noted as having supplied romaine lettuce linked to three concurrent outbreaks; this outbreak which includes cases in the U.S. and Canada; one outbreak in Washington state potentially linked to leafy greens; and the third outbreak, with cases in the U.S. and Canada, linked to Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits.

When investigators arrived on the ranches there was no romaine lettuce in the ground and the fields had been plowed, as the growing season had already ended.

Investigators collected water, soil, and compost samples to be analyzed. So far, sample results have come back negative for the three outbreak strains of E. coli. FDA did find a strain of E. coli that is unrelated to any illnesses in a soil sample. This strain of E. coli was determined to be of low risk to people. Although this grower was determined to be a common supplier for all three outbreaks based on available supply chain information, the romaine lettuce from this grower does not explain all the illnesses seen in the three outbreaks.

The outbreak linked to Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits, with cases in the U.S. and Canada, was declared over by CDC on January 15, 2020. There are no products that caused these illnesses left on the market. The outbreak in Washington state sickened 11 people. This outbreak has also been declared over.

As part of FDA’s ongoing efforts to understand and prevent foodborne illnesses linked to leafy greens, the FDA will conduct a root cause investigation. The investigation will be conducted throughout this year’s romaine lettuce planting, growing, and harvesting season. Results will be shared publicly when the investigation and analysis are concluded.

Case Counts
Total Illnesses: 167
Hospitalizations: 85
Deaths: 0
Last illness onset: December 21, 2019
States with Cases: AZ (4), CA (8), CO (6), DE (1), FL (4), IA (1), ID (4), IL (15), MD (5), MI (2), MN (7), MT (1), NE (2), NJ (9), NC (3), NM (2), NY (3), OH (12), OR (1), PA (21), SC (1), SD (1), TN (1), TX (6), VA (6), WA (6), WI (35)