Two weeks ago, the FDA published the “FDA Update on Traceback Related to the E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce.” The diagram entitled “Redacted draft traceback diagram for FDA investigation of multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce from Yuma growing region,” told the public that the outbreak, which as of Wednesday morning (expect update today) had sickened over 200 (if you count Canada), caused nearly 30 HUS cases and has killed 5, came from Yuma Arizona and spread nationwide. Since then there has been silence from the FDA.
The diagram (below) itself is far simpler that all the lines would suggest. Yes, there are many fields that tainted romaine may have come from, but then fewer farms, and then fewer processors and distribution centers. As you would expect at the point of sale – grocery stores and restaurants – it expands in number. Here, however, because the FDA in this instance choses to keep the public in the dark as to the names of the romaine production – from farm to fork – the FDA leaves it to the civil justice system to fill in the blanks. So far Harrison Farms has been identified as the grower/shipper of whole-head romaine that made it to a prison north of Nome (likely that straight line below). We have also learned of clusters of illnesses at Panera, Red Lobster, Papa Murphy’s and Texas Roadhouse. From those entities we have learned that they received romaine (some whole-head and some washed, chopped and bagged) from at least Freshway and Church Brothers. Over the next week we expect more clusters to be named and the distribution chain to become “less redacted.”
As I have said far too many times, the FDA should not leave it up to lawyers like me to “fill in the blanks” on where contaminated romaine originated and would up on someone’s plate. But fill on the blanks we will. It takes time, but a few lawsuits, subpoenas and depositions tend to do the trick.
But, then this week the FDA published the “FDA Investigating Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Adelaide Infections Linked to Pre-Cut Melons,” and noted:
… 60 people ill with this strain of Salmonella in five states: IL (6), IN (11), MI (32), MO (10), OH (1). The ages of the ill people range from less than one year to 97 (median 67 years) and 65% of cases are female. Reported illness onset dates range from 4/30/18 – 5/28/18. Among 47 with available information, 31 (66%) have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
The FDA then went further, not only naming the processor of the Salmonella-tainted melons, but also where the product was sold and in what states:
FDA advises consumers not to eat recalled fresh cut watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and fresh-cut fruit medley products containing any of these melons produced at the Caito Foods facility in Indianapolis, Indiana. Caito Foods, LLC distributed products produced at this facility in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa. The products were packaged in clear, plastic clamshell containers and distributed to Costco, Jay C, Kroger, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon.
The list of full states that received potentially contaminated product from Caito Food, LLC, is Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio.
OK, readers, you tell me, an FDA with a change of policy on what is a trade secret, or just a random act of transparency? Either way the stark contrast between how FDA is handling romaine vs fruit needs to be explained.