Several retailers are pulling romaine lettuce products off their shelves as federal and state health officials continue their investigation into an outbreak of E. coli that has made 35 people sick in 11 states.
The U.S. Food and Drug administration has linked the outbreak to romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona, the primary romaine lettuce-supplying region this time of the year. The FDA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend that consumers not eat romaine lettuce from that area. But determining where lettuce was grown is not always easy for the consumer to do. The advent of packaged products including fresh produce from a variety of sources is one hurdle; there's also the fact that the primary producing region has already shifted to California, accordin to an industry official.
Retailers, including Sam's Club, have removed romaine lettuce from their stores or are alerting customers to discard packaged salad products made with romaine. Two grocery store chains in the Midwest, Schnucks and Giant Eagle, also yanked romaine lettuce from their stores.
The Sam's Club in Fresno recently sent an email to its customers who purchased "Chicken Caesar Bowls" made by Ready Pac Foods, Inc. in Southern California. The UPC code on the package is 7774529935.
"If any of this product is still in your possession or inventory, we request that you return the product to your local Sam's Club for a full refund," the email states.
But company officials with Bonduelle Fresh Americas, home of Ready Pac Foods, issued a statement on Monday: "... we have no reason to believe any of our products are affected by this outbreak, and we continue to stand by this statement."
Although the FDA's investigation points to romaine lettuce from Arizona as the likely cause of the outbreak, the agency has not linked it to a specific grower, supplier, distributor or brand.
Food safety advocates, such as Consumer Reports, are advising consumers to avoid all romaine lettuce for now.
But Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, an industry food safety program in California, said that the romaine lettuce harvest has shifted from Yuma to Salinas and Huron.
"Everything going to the market right now is coming from California," Horsfall said. "Any remaining chopped romaine from Yuma is off the market so there is an extremely low risk in the marketplace right now."