Florida Romaine Gets Cleared, New Labeling Approaches

Randall Weiseman Florida, Vegetables

lettuceFlorida-grown romaine lettuce has been cleared as safe to eat according to a release from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) sent out earlier this morning. The clearing came from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after concluding the outbreak came from a region in California. The FDACS release states:

“Americans deserve a safe, nutritious and abundant food supply, and I’m alarmed to hear that dozens of people have been sickened with this foodborne illness,” said Commissioner Adam H. Putnam. “While the federal investigation is ongoing, I’m encouraged that Florida-grown romaine lettuce is not linked to the outbreak and has been cleared to re-enter the marketplace.”

On Nov. 21, Commissioner Putnam spoke directly with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottleib and advocated for the reintroduction of Florida romaine into the market, given the timing of Florida’s harvest and the advanced production methods used in Florida, and followed up with a letter.

The FDA, CDC announcement advising consumers not to purchase or eat romaine came as a surprise to many growers throughout the United States. In fact, some growers in Florida were angered by the blanket announcement to stop consuming lettuce even though Florida lettuce was never a risk to consume. Read those accounts and listen to full interviews here.

Since the FDA investigation is still ongoing, it is crucial that consumers know where their romaine lettuce is coming from. The FDA is advising consumers to check the packaging for a growing location. If the package does not have a location, the consumer should not eat it. The FDA released the following account regarding clear labeling on packaging:

Based on discussions with major producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date. Romaine lettuce entering the market can also be labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse grown. If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.

If consumers, retailers, and food service facilities are unable to identify that romaine lettuce products are not affected – which means determining that the products were grown outside the California regions that appear to be implicated in the current outbreak investigation — FDA urges that these products not be purchased, or if purchased, be discarded or returned to the place of purchase.

Romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these sources.
The FDA has urged growers, processors, distributors and retailers to:
  • Clearly and prominently label all individually packaged romaine products to identify growing region and harvest date for romaine; and
  • Clearly and prominently label at the point of sale the growing region when it is not possible for romaine lettuce suppliers to label the package (e.g. individual unwrapped whole heads of romaine lettuce available in retail stores).