USLegal Newsletter April 2018 – What You Need to Know About E. Coli Outbreak in Romaine Lettuce and Food Safety Laws

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that 98 people from 22 states have now become ill after eating romaine lettuce that was grown from a farm in Yuma, Arizona. About half of the individuals have been hospitalized and some have developed kidney failure. The CDC is now advising consumers not to eat romaine lettuce that comes from Yuma. Restaurants, grocery stores, and other retailers should also not sell or serve romaine lettuce unless it can be clearly determined that it does not come from the affected region.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working closely with the CDC to investigate how the contamination happened and how it spread. In an official advisory, the FDA has stated:

“In a typical traceback effort, CDC and the FDA identify clusters of people who became ill, especially in different geographical regions and work to trace the food eaten by those made ill to a common source. For this outbreak investigation, we have been able to identify romaine lettuce as the common food source, but the available packaging provides very limited information on the source of the products. With limited packaging information, FDA scientists and investigators are working with federal and state partners and companies as quickly as possible to collect, review and analyze hundreds of records in an attempt to traceback the source of the contaminated romaine lettuce. To date, our traceback has revealed that romaine lettuce potentially contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 came from the Yuma growing region, but was supplied to restaurants and retailers through multiple processors, grower/shipper companies, and farms.”

When it comes to the prevention of food borne illnesses, the main governing law is the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). The federal statute aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. The Act authorizes the FDA and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase inspections of many domestic food facilities enhance detection of food borne illness outbreaks, and order recalls of tainted food products. The Act also requires most food companies to write and implement new safety protocols to mitigate potential hazards. Additionally, the Act mandates increased scrutiny for imported food products. The law also contains a food safety whistleblower provision designed to encourage employee reporting of food safety concerns and protect the whistleblower from retaliation by the whistleblower’s employer. Click this link for more information on FSMA.

People with questions about food safety can call the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit the FDA website.

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Legal Definitions

Food and Drug Administration

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The FDA is charged with the responsibility of protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, U.S. food supply, medical devices, cosmetics, and products emitting radiation. The FDA also regulates the manufacture, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products. More

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