Romaine lettuce recall spreads westward

An FDA alert expands the romaine lettuce recall to companies in California and Oklahoma, although the likelihood of consumers getting contaminated lettuce now is 'remote.'

Luke Gronneberg/The Sidney Daily News/AP
After the original romaine lettuce recall nearly a week ago by Freshway Foods in Sidney, Ohio, the FDA expanded the recall late Friday to companies in California and Oklahoma. The new recalled product does not involve products sold directly to consumers.

The romaine lettuce recall that began nearly a week ago in the eastern United States has now spread to include companies in California and Oklahoma.

Unlike the original romaine recall by Freshway Foods, the new action does not include romaine sold directly to consumers. And, since it involves only a small lot of lettuce that has already passed its "use by" date, the threat to consumers now is remote, says one of the companies involved in the expanded recall.

Nevertheless, food service and produce distributors worked over the weekend to pull the suspect romaine even as inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried to find the source of the E. coli contamination it uncovered last week. Its investigation is focused on a farm in the Yuma, Ariz., area, according to an FDA release.

"The focus is at the farm level," FDA spokesman Michael Herndon wrote in an e-mail. Investigators are probing all areas of the operation, including growing and processing procedures.

The expansion of the recall began Friday evening, according to fruit-and-vegetable shipper Andrew Smith Co. The FDA alerted the company that a bag of contaminated romaine had come from the Yuma farm, which supplies Andrew Smith.

The Speckles, Calif., found that it had shipped two lots from the farm – a total of just over 1,000 cartons – to an unnamed Massachusetts-based food processor and to Vaughan Foods, a supplier of processed and packaged lettuce in Moore, Okla.

Since the Massachusetts company's lot had already reached its "use by" date early in May there was no product left to recall, according to Andrew Smith spokeswoman Amy Philpott.

The Vaughan Foods lot, which had "use by" dates of May 9 and 10, required the company to alert its customers to pull the remaining suspect lettuce over the weekend. Vaughan Foods declined to say which food-service distributors and produce distributors were involved. But "since the product is now past its 'use by' date, the probability is remote that any of the product remains in commerce," the company said in a statement.

If indeed the contaminated romaine came from Yuma, it came at the tail end of Yuma's growing season for romaine. As is typical every year, the Andrew Smith Co. has already started supplying romaine from farms in California, according to Ms. Philpott.

Consumers with questions can call the FDA at 888-INFO-FDA.

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