The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning earlier this week for US citizens to avoid romaine lettuce (called cos lettuce in Australia) of any kind as the result of a new E. coli outbreak that has sicked more than two dozen people across 11 US states.
Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, tweeted Thursday that the FDA was working closely with other government agencies to determine the source of the E. coli outbreak, but he noted that it was "likely that the implicated produce is from California."
Gottlieb also said that part of the reason such a sweeping warning against consuming any cos products was issued was in part because of difficult-to-distinguish labelling as well as the Thanksgiving holiday.
"Some lettuce packing is labelled in a way that doesn't make it clear where the product was grown. If you look at a package of lettuce, it's most likely going to have the address of the company on the back; not the location of the growing fields," Gottlieb said. "That's a large part of why we issued such a broad warning. Our ultimate goal is the protection of consumers. And entering into a holiday weekend that's very food-centric, we felt the need to make this statement."
As a key response to the outbreaks FDA will begin a special effort to sample, test romaine for contamination throughout the market; investigate why we see some continued risks with romaine; and if there are features related to its growing, harvesting, packaging that create risks
— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) November 22, 2018
The current E. coli outbreak has affected 32 people since early October, with 13 hospitalisations and one person reportedly developing a type of kidney failure. The CDC advised against eating "any [cos] lettuce, including whole heads and hearts, chopped, organic and salad mixes with [cos] until we learn more," adding that you should definitely chuck it if there is any uncertainty.
The CDC said that the strain of the current outbreak, E. coli O157:H7, has the "same DNA fingerprint as the E. coli strain isolated from ill people in a 2017 outbreak." That outbreak occurred around the same time last year, which Gottlieb told CNN indicated it was associated with the end of California's harvest season.
As of Thursday, the CDC was still advising those in the US to not to eat any cos lettuce. Gottlieb said the FDA is hoping to have an update on the outbreak by Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday.