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US: FDA hid romaine-related outbreak from public for more than 6 weeks

An outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce sickened people in a dozen states from July through early September, but US officials did not release any information about it until Halloween.

Both the FDA and CDC investigated the outbreak of infections from potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7, but the federal agencies “did not identify actionable information for consumers” and therefore did not reveal the outbreak.

The top food safety official at the Food and Drug Administration took the opportunity this Thursday night to post a statement about the outbreak and to remind the leafy greens industry to review its food safety practices.

That reminder from Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, comes in the wake of two E. coli outbreaks in 2018 that sickened more than 270 people total, killing five. The outbreaks had unusually high hospitalization rates of between 46 percent and 48 percent. The outbreaks were traced to romaine lettuce from the Yuma, AZ, and California Central Coast growing regions.

Traceback investigation
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the FDA about the outbreak in “mid-September,” according to the Halloween statement. Yiannas said the FDA immediately began an investigation that included state agencies. Investigators were sent to visit farms located in California’s Central Coast region that were identified through a traceback investigation.

However, because it was believed that all of the implicated romaine lettuce was past its shelf life, the FDA did not opt for public transparency, instead choosing to leave the outbreak in the shadows.


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