Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

FDA Calls for Labeling of Romaine Lettuce

Consumers advised not to consume romaine lettuce that is not labeled


 (Salt Lake City) – In the wake of the most recent E. coli infection outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is urging growers and distributors of romaine lettuce to label the produce with information about where and when the crop was harvested. FDA is also urging the public not to buy or consume romaine lettuce that does not have the new voluntary label.

“Based on discussions with major producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date. Romaine lettuce entering the market can also be labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse grown. If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it,” FDA said in a statement.

“Anything we can do to improve traceability and speed up the process of getting an accurate recall is welcome news”, said Richard Beckstrand, Manufactured Food Program Manager, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. “Similar labeling should be encouraged for all produce.”

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the FDA continued to investigate the outbreak.

 “Our investigation at this point suggests that romaine lettuce associated with the outbreak comes from areas of California that grow romaine lettuce over the summer months, and that the outbreak appears to be related to ‘end of season’ romaine lettuce harvested from these areas. The involved areas include the Central Coast growing regions of central and northern California,” FDA announced Monday afternoon.

At the time of the outbreak, the vast majority of the romaine on the market was being grown in the Central Coast region of California. Since then, harvesting of romaine lettuce from this region has ended for the year. Growing and harvesting of romaine lettuce is now shifting to the winter growing regions of the U.S., which include mainly the California desert region of the Imperial Valley, the desert region of Arizona in and around Yuma, and Florida. Romaine lettuce grown in Mexico is exported to the U.S. during the winter months. Smaller quantities of romaine lettuce are grown in other states. At this time, the FDA has no information to suggest any of these growing areas are involved in the current outbreak, which began well before any romaine lettuce from these winter growing locations was available for harvest.

While new labels will help consumers know whether it is safe to consume lettuce they have purchased, once the source of growing area of the contaminated crop is identified, the new labels alone will not reduce the number or severity of future food borne illness outbreaks in romaine lettuce, Beckstrand urged.

The leafy greens industry has agreed to establish a task force to find solutions for long term labeling of romaine lettuce and other leafy greens for helping to identify products and to put in place standards for traceability of product. The task force will also examine information from this outbreak to identify measures that led to its occurrence and how to prevent ongoing safety problems with romaine lettuce.