Romaine lettuce from the Salinas region is finally safe to eat after multiple E. coli outbreaks linked to it. But the investigation into what went wrong is still ongoing.
On Wednesday, federal agencies lifted the advisory to not eat romaine from Salinas. It was first announced just before Thanksgiving, which was tough timing for Salinas Valley farmers.
The Food and Drug Administration now says the three separate E. coli outbreaks linked to tainted romaine from the area are over.
Those outbreaks included one with cases across the U.S. and in Canada and an outbreak in Washington State. The third outbreak was linked to Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits from local Salinas Company Fresh Express. In total, nearly 200 people were sickened.
Investigators have been visiting fields in the Salinas Valley to try and determine the source of the contamination. However, they arrived after the growing season had ended, so there was no romaine in the ground.
While they’ve identified a common grower in the Valley, they’re not naming that grower yet. Investigators have collected water, soil and compost samples from several of the grower’s fields. Despite those samples, they still haven’t figured out exactly what went wrong, so the investigation is still ongoing.
Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot says the bureau is disappointed it took this long to lift the advisory since romaine from Salinas hasn’t been in the marketplace for some time.
“But we're, of course, happy that the advisory is now concluded and that they have something to hopefully investigate further and determine maybe an exact cause and help us in that area,” Groot said.
The FDA says they’re working to improve the system that identifies contaminated products. The agency will launch what’s called the New Era of Smarter Food Safety this year. The plan is to create a more digital system for tracing back products through the country’s complex supply chain.