Last week, the Minnesota department of Health (MDH) reported the following:
- Illnesses updated: MDH, working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), now reports 10 illnesses linked to the multi-state E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. The illness onset date related to these new cases range from April 20 to May 2.
- Expanded regional focus: MDH has stated “The Yuma growing region includes part of western Arizona and extends into the Imperial Valley of southeastern California but does not include Salinas Valley or other growing regions in California.”
- Consumer advice: CDC and FDA continue to advise consumers to not eat or buy romaine lettuce unless they can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona region, which now includes the Imperial Valley of California. The agencies’ advice includes whole heads, hearts, chopped, baby and organic romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine.
- The investigation continues: PMA and our allied organizations have and will continue to offer our food safety expertise and industry knowledge to the agencies – to help them get to the bottom of this outbreak as soon as possible to protect public health, and so that our industry can learn everything we can.
What does this new information mean?
- The specific inclusion of the Imperial, CA area is essentially not a surprise as the produce industry is well acquainted with the winter production areas in Arizona and California and the “Yuma region” as it has been referred to in previous FDA/CDC notices has always been intended to include Yuma and the associated growing areas — Arizona, Northern Baja and over into the Imperial area of California. The press states clearly that production in the Yuma region has been seasonally discontinued. However, it does call this region of California out and it remains to be seen how that will resonate with consumers.
- The Minnesota press release makes it clear that this alert does not cover romaine produced in the Salinas Valley of California.
- Most importantly, the press release described 10 illnesses In Minnesota with an earliest onset of April 20 and extending to a latest onset of illness of May 2. The latest illness onset date of May 2 is troubling. Last week, FDA/CDC reported a latest date of April 21, 2018, which means people are still being exposed to contaminated romaine and reporting illnesses even though production in the Yuma area has ended. Neither FDA nor CDC has commented on this yet.