"When romaine lettuce was identified as the likely source of the outbreak, the available data at the time indicated that the outbreak was not ongoing and romaine lettuce eaten by sick people was past its shelf life and is no longer available for sale," wrote the FDA on Thursday. "The FDA is providing details of the outbreak at this time to help ensure full public awareness and to highlight the ongoing importance of industry action to ensure the safety of green greens."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the FDA of the outbreak in mid-September and suspected leafy greens were the culprit on September 1
9, according to Brian Katzowitz, CDC health communications specialist. Both agencies determined that romaine was the likely cause on October 2.
Asked why the agencies were waiting for Halloween to release a public announcement, Katzowitz told The Washington Post that "there are a few variables to consider when posting an outbreak, but the CDC generally issues outbreaks when is something that can be done for consumers to do. "
Bill Marler, a prominent Seattle food safety attorney, argued that it was negligent for the FDA and CDC to postpone their public notice. About 75,000 people are infected with E. coli in the United States each year, Marler said, and because of the different eating habits of those affected, the CDC rarely determines a single source.
By not announcing the findings immediately, Marler said, these agencies prioritized protecting the romaine industry from informing consumers about a public security risk.
"If I eat romaine lettuce, and I found that romaine lettuce poisoned 11 people and left them in the hospital, I may not want to eat romaine lettuce," Marler said. "It's a lie to the public in every way . People in charge of our public health do not tell the public what is happening. ”
Marler said that the latest cluster of Romanian-related infections shares remarkable similarities to the two major E. coli outbreaks from spring and autumn to last year. An outbreak in March 2018, which killed 210 people nationwide and left five dead, was linked to romaine grown in the Yuma, Ariz., Area. The outbreaks were caused by contamination by an E. coli strain known as O157: H7. It produces a Shiga toxin that in severe cases can lead to hemolytic uraemic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.
"All these outbreaks have the same factual pattern as this – the only difference is that they decided not to tell us about this one," Marler said. "Choose whatever excuse you want, but whatever it is, it's a ridiculous excuse."
The disclosure comes when the CDC announced its own outbreak of salmonella infections related to meat dough. The agency said it investigated 10 reported cases of "Salmonella Dublin" spanning six states, where victims experienced illnesses "more severe than expected for salmonella."
One person died from the Salmonella outbreak in California and eight people have been hospitalized, said the CDC. Sick patients have reported eating different types and brands of minced meat "purchased from many places." Those affected, who are between 48 and 74 years, fell ill once between August 8 and September 22.
"Of nine sick people with available information, eight (89%) were hospitalized, which is much higher than we expect for Salmonella infections," the agency wrote. “The hospitalization rate is usually around 20%. . . . In five (50%) sick people, Salmonella was found in blood tests, indicating that their illnesses may have been more severe. "