Central Coast romaine lettuce likely source of national E. coli outbreak, says ag official

Nov 27, 2018

UPDATE Nov. 27, 2018: The Federal Drug Administration says its investigation has narrowed down the source of the current E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Ventura counties. The CDC says packaging should indicate where the lettuce was grown, and if it does not, do not eat it. 43 people are now reported ill connected to the outbreak. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration urged consumers to toss out any romaine lettuce on hand in connection to an E. coli outbreak, and Monterey County's top agricultural official said romaine grown on the Central Coast is possibly the source.

"It's very likely that the lettuce came from this area, could be San Benito County, could be Monterey County—Monterey County has more acreage, so the odds are that it's Monterey County," said Monterey County's Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales. "This is very similar to the outbreak that occurred earlier in the year in the Yuma [AZ] region, with E. coli 0157: H7, and so it's just another E. coli [outbreak]—I hate to say just another one—because they're happening too often...and two this year, that's not good."

So far, ten people in California have been sickened with that particular strain of E. coli. But California is the only western state where people have fallen ill; the rest of the affected people live in the Midwest, East Coast states and Canada.

Regarding romain lettuce as the suspected source, the CDC and others "are saying that nobody should consume it, that restaurants should not prepare salads, and that stores that should not sell any romaine lettuce," Gonzales said. 

Those affected started getting sick the first week of October, and as of Nov. 20, 32 people are ill from the same type of outbreak.

The CDC and federal investigators say no common grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been identified at this point, but they are advising consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce until more is known about the outbreak. Gonzales said it's just romaine lettuce that's connected to the illnesses, not any other type of lettuce or greens.