Federal agencies warned consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California, ahead of one of the biggest food-oriented holidays, as they investigate an expanding multistate outbreak of E. coli infections linked to the produce.
“No one is more frustrated than the producers of leafy greens that outbreaks continue to be associated with our products,” said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, a food safety program created in 2007 to prevent foodborne illnesses caused by lettuce and leafy greens.
The warning comes almost exactly one year after a similar pre-Thanksgiving outbreak tied to romaine occurred.
Even growers who don't believe their lettuce is tainted with E.coli bacteria are feeling the effects as the outbreak spans 16 states, sickening upward of 40 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"To date, we have not been contacted by regulators as a potential source. There is no indication that any Taylor Farms products are a source nor have we initiated any form of product recall at this time," Taylor Farms, which ranks as the world’s largest processor of fresh-cut vegetables, said in a statement to FOX Business. "Taylor Farms’ highest priority is the health and well-being of our consumers. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and update customers with any new information."
The company said it is recommending consumers follow the CDC advisory.
“We are devastated as a leafy greens community when this happens. Our thoughts go to those affected by this outbreak. But that’s why we want to continue to work with governmental agencies to learn why this is happening so that we can improve.”
The cause of the outbreak tied to the leafy green remains unclear despite a concentrated focus on safety by government regulators and producers.
Officials urged Americans not to eat the lettuce if the label doesn’t say where it was grown. They also urged supermarkets and restaurants not to serve or sell the lettuce, unless they’re sure it was grown elsewhere. The warning applies to all types of romaine from the Salinas region, including whole heads, hearts and pre-cut salad mixes.
“The situation is heartbreaking,” said Dan Sutton, who serves as the chairman of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. “I have a very young family and the products we grow go to my family’s dinner table. My children consume the very same products we are sending out to consumers across the nation. That’s something I think about every day.”
The most recent reported illness started on Nov. 10. The agency says it’s the same E. coli strain tied to previous outbreaks, including the one from last Thanksgiving.
The investigation is ongoing until the agencies can determine the source of contamination and if additional products are linked to the illness.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.