Restaurants face another romaine recall

Health authorities say only lettuce from a particular area may pose a health risk.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Three weeks after declaring romaine lettuce was safe to eat again, federal health officials warned restaurants on Friday to stop serving any supplies of the green that originated from California’s Salinas Valley, citing a risk of E.coli contamination. 

The authorities have also advised the public to forego eating any “salad products” from Missa Bay, a New Jersey food processor that voluntarily recalled 73,000 pounds of processed lettuce and meat items because a dangerous form of E.coli was found in supplies distributed in Maryland. Most of Missa’s products appear to be sold to supermarkets and other retailers.

Forty people in 16 states have already been sickened by E.coli 0157:H7 after consuming lettuce believed to come from Salinas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The California agricultural center is one of the nation’s major sources of romaine lettuce. 

Distributors were asked to stop supplying any lettuce from the region for the remainder of the Salinas growing season.

The advisory comes on the eve of Thanksgiving, when salad is often a standard part of the traditional holiday meal. The warnings will likely prompt consumers to avoid any type of lettuce, as they did during past outbreaks involving romaine, said Michael Droke, a partner with the law firm Dorsey & Whitney. The practice specializes in agriculture and food-related legal issues.

A warning like this, especially during the holiday week, will impact not only romaine but other leafy green vegetables such as spinach,” Droke said in a statement. “Retailers will be pulling romaine and possibly all other lettuce/leafy greens from their shelves (a process called quarantining).”

Restaurant chains said one of the challenges in the last romaine recall was quickly updating their menus on third-party delivery sites to show the brands’ salads had been reformulated with other types of lettuce. 

A year ago, federal authorities urged restaurants to stop serving all types and forms of romaine lettuce after E.coli traced to the green had sickened 32 people in 11 states. That alert followed warnings about the contamination in April and May 2018 of lettuce from Yuma, Ariz. 

A recall of romaine was also announced in 2017. Five people died and 200 reported symptoms of E.coli poisoning during the outbreak that triggered that recall.

Last week’s advisory followed an unusual announcement by health authorities on Oct. 31 that romaine lettuce was safe to eat again. The bulletin revealed that another outbreak of E.coli contamination had sickened 23 people in mid-September but appeared to be over. “We do not believe there is a current or ongoing risk to the public and we are not recommending the public avoid consuming romaine lettuce,” Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response for the Food and Drug Administration, said at the time.

Last week’s warning about another romaine contamination came initially from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. It was echoed a day later by the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC. 

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