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CNN Lets ‘Food Babe’ Spout Pseudoscience on Lettuce Outbreak
There’s another wonderful headline. Everyone has something to say about Romaine lettuce and pathogenic E. coli. Everyone I know anyway. I do not spout pseudoscience, but I have previously written about our first Romaine recall of 2018 here, and I use credible sources for my information like CDC and FDA.

The United States is currently in a second E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Romaine.
Our friends to the north in Canada are with us in this outbreak too. The CDC reported on November 26, that 43 cases in the US have been diagnosed across 12 states, with 16 hospitalizations and no deaths. The illness for at least one person has resulted in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), i.e. kidney failure. The outbreak started the beginning of October, and more cases are expected to be reported.

Romaine is currently not harvested from Arizona.
The first 2018 outbreak of pathogenic E. coli was traced to Romaine grown in Arizona. It took some time to detect, but the source of the Romaine for the current outbreak is California, not Arizona. In fact, the search has narrowed to six counties in California where Romaine was grown and harvested.

Where was my Romaine grown?
In the last outbreak, family members were asking me if they really had to throw away the old Romaine in the refrigerator and the fresh Romaine they just bought at the store. Yes! All Romaine was discarded in the supply chain. Growers, processors, stores and restaurants are understandably upset at having to dispose of Romaine again. Thanks to government and industry working together, FDA is urging processors to label Romaine with used by dates, harvest location and harvest date.

Do you remember the outbreak of 2017?
Yes, we were in a similar spot a year ago with an E. coli outbreak in the United States and Canada. Data pointed to leafy greens, but the source of the outbreak was never found, and a recall was never announced by the FDA. Canada’s traceback investigation landed on Romaine as the source. In the US, there were 25 cases across 15 states with the outbreak starting the beginning of November. By the end of February, two people had HUS and one person had died. Canada saw 42 cases and one death.

Are all these E. coli the same? No, and Maybe.
No. The FDA states that the E. coli O157:H7 from the first outbreak of 2018 and from Arizona Romaine is different genetically from the E. coli O157:H7 of California, like non-identical twins. Close, but not the same.
Maybe. However, when comparing the E. coli O157:H7 of the current outbreak to the E. coli O157:H7 of the outbreak this time last year, they are identical twins:

    Genetic analysis indicates that illnesses reported in this current outbreak are caused by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 seen in a previous outbreak that occurred in fall of 2017 that affected consumers in both Canada and the U.S.

Smart people are working on this problem in the United States and Canada. In the meantime, toss away any Romaine you have in your refrigerator. Recalls are stressful situations. The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule under FSMA requires a written recall plan.

ConnectFood can help you meet the requirement of the rule and be prepared for a potential recall. The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

About the Author
Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
Kathy Knutson Food Safety Consulting LLC
Dr. Kathy Knutson works nationwide with food manufacturers on recall investigations, problem-solving, training, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance. After being trained in 2016 as a Lead Instructor with the FDA-recognized curriculum for Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals, she has delivered over 20 workshops to the food industry. With 35+ years in microbiology and 15 years of full-time teaching, Dr. Knutson is passionate about training and is an active communicator at all levels of an organization. She has taught and consulted with companies on laboratory methods, interpretation of lab results, quality assurance, sanitation, environmental monitoring, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As a life-long learner, Dr. Knutson is trained in the prevention of intentional adulteration, a topic on the horizon for the food industry. Dr. Knutson is a contributing author at CannabisIndustryJournal.com. Dr. Knutson writes a food safety blog and contributes expert services to manufacturers through ConnectFood.com, an online site for writing HACCP and food safety plans. When Dr. Knutson is not traveling, she works from home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and an adorable Bernedoodle. Learn more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd.