Consumer Reports issues romaine warning; company recalls salads
Consumer Reports today urged the public to avoid all romaine lettuce for now, based on an Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak that has sickened 35 people in 11 states, as a Pennsylvania company recalled 8,757 pounds of ready-to-eat salads that may be contaminated.
In another development, a group of five produce grower trade groups issued a joint statement on Apr 14 that said its members are cooperating with government investigators and are working closely to identify the source of the outbreak tied to chopped romaine from the Yuma, Ariz., growing area, adding that nearly all romaine being harvested and shipped now is from California areas not implicated in the outbreak.
The Consumer Reports statement said its advisory is its second warning for romaine since January and that its advice goes beyond the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advice for the public to buy or order only bagged romaine lettuce that didn't originate from the Yuma growing area. The group said in the statement that it issued the warning out of an abundance of caution and because it may be hard for consumers to tell where the romaine is sourced.
So far, federal officials haven't identified a source, but on Apr 14 Fresh Foods Manufacturing, based in Freedom, Pa., voluntarily recalled ready-to-eat salads after receiving notification that its supplier was recalling romaine lettuce over E coli concerns. No confirmed illnesses have been linked to the company's salads, which were shipped to retail locations in four states: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. In a recall notice from the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the "Great to Go" by Market District salads, served in clear plastic containers, were produced from Apr 9 to Apr 12 and have a 4-day shelf life.
Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in an Apr 13 outbreak update that the investigation continues and that it will share more information as it becomes available. It noted that the Yuma growing area implicated in the outbreak generally supplies romaine to the United States during November through March of each year. It said no specific grower, supplier, distributor, or brand has been identified and that it doesn't have information to suggest whole-head romaine or hearts of romaine are involved.
In a separate development, grower groups extended their deepest sympathies to those affected by the outbreak and said they take the responsibility for producing fresh produce very seriously. The groups include the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, United Fresh, and Western Growers.
Apr 16 Consumer Reports statement
Apr 14 FSIS recall notice
Apr 13 FDA update
Apr 16 PMA statement
Single foodborne illness outbreak can cost businesses millions
New research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that a single foodborne illness outbreak can cost a restaurant millions of dollars in lost revenue, higher insurance premiums, and legal fees. The study is published today in Public Health Reports.
The study used computer models to simulate both small outbreaks and large outbreaks (from 5 to 250 cases) in fast food, fast causal, casual, and fine dining restaurants. The model also took into account 15 different pathogens.
A small outbreak in a fast food restaurant with no lawsuits could cost about $4,000, but that number jumps to $1.9 million when more than 250 people get sick and some decide to sue the establishment. The most costly pathogen was the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
"Even a small outbreak involving five to 10 people can have large ramifications for a restaurant," says Sarah M. Bartsch, MPH, lead author of the study, in a Johns Hopkins news release. "Many prevention measures can be simple, like implement adequate food safety staff training for all restaurant employees and apply sufficient sick leave policies, and can potentially avoid substantial costs in the event of an outbreak."
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 48 million Americans are sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year because of food-related illnesses.
Apr 16 Public Health Rep study
Apr 16 John Hopkins press release