FDA to start testing romaine lettuce on heels of Ecoli outbreaks

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a statement, said it will begin testing romaine lettuce for E. coli this month, a potentially deadly bacteria found in meat, dairy and greens.

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In the past two years, there have been at least three major outbreaks, including the highly publicized contamination at restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, in which about 60 people across 14 states where infected, leaving more than 20 of them hospitalized.

Some estimates note Chipotle lost a whopping $998 million as a result of the epidemic.

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The FDA plans to collect 270 raw post-harvest samples of romaine lettuce in California and Arizona over the next year, where the crops are mostly grown. The samples, taken from commercial facilities, distribution centers, foodservice and wholesalers, will be sought out during production transition periods in March, April, October and November.

This new effort comes as an attempt from the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health agencies to pinpoint contamination sources and develop more targeted investigations into foodborne illness outbreaks.

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A report from the University of Minnesota estimated salmonella and E. coli cases cost the country about $3.13 billion a year.

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A separate report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information found the cost of a single foodborne illness outbreak ranged from $3,968 to $1.9 million for a given fast-food restaurant, $6,330 to $2 million for a fast-casual restaurant, $8,030 to $2.2 million for a casual-dining restaurant and $8,273 to $2.6 million for a fine-dining restaurant.