(Photo by Ashley Nickle)

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to scale back their broad warning that consumers not eat any romaine lettuce due to potential contamination with E. coli.

The CDC issued an advisory Nov. 20 instructing people to avoid all romaine because it had been linked to an outbreak that has sickened at least 50 people in the U.S. and Canada, but FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Fox News on Nov. 26 that the agencies believe the market has been purged of all potentially contaminated romaine.

“We think it’s been done now, so we’re going to put out a statement a little later today saying that we think we’ve isolated the problem to produce grown in the coastal regions of California, of central and northern California, and that produce that’s grown in other parts of the country ... it’s probably safe to put back into commerce now,” Gottlieb said. “So what we wanted to do was purge the market of the produce that was probably contaminated, which has now been isolated, we think, to California, and now stores can start restocking with produce that’s being harvested from Florida or North Carolina or other parts of the country.”

The United Fresh Produce Association announced shortly after Gottlieb spoke that several romaine grower-shipper-processors negotiated a voluntary labeling agreement with the FDA.

Romaine packages shipped under the new guidelines will include where the product was grown and its approximate harvest date.

“This will allow FDA to communicate to consumers that product coming back into the marketplace could not have been related to the outbreak earlier this fall,” United Fresh wrote in its statement, which characterized the agreement as an example of industry and government working together.

“In addition to the labeling agreement, the industry and FDA have agreed to work together to continue improvement in the tracking and tracing of romaine lettuce through the supply chain,” United Fresh wrote in its statement. “We recognize that the greatest challenge we face is motivating case identification to be retained by end customers at point of sale, thus enhancing all of our ability to quickly trace produce from point of sale to the grower.

“Case labeling today often provides this vital information, but too often that information is not captured and retained at point of sale, thus complicating trace back,” United Fresh wrote. “Improved data capture at all supply chain points is a prerequisite to leveraging technology that can quickly illuminate supply chain pathways.”


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