In July, there was an outbreak of E. coli connected to romaine lettuce. However, the FDA was in no hurry to announce this news to the public. Instead, they waited until Halloween to say anything at all about the six-week-long breakout that stretched from July to September.
What were they thinking?
Why Did the FDA Hide the Outbreak?
Both the FDA and the CDC were involved in the investigations into the romaine-based E. coli outbreak. While they identified that the outbreak was related to the leafy greens, they weren’t able to determine a course of action on how to recall the affected products or isolate where the outbreak was based. In their own words, they “did not identify actionable information for consumers.”
As such, rather than issue a blanket announcement with no plan of action, the FDA simply kept the outbreak out of public sight. They apparently believed that announcing an E. coli outbreak without giving consumers any further information could just lead to panic and would have been unhelpful.
Consumers, however, would likely have appreciated knowing that their food could have been contaminated.
The FDA’s Statement
Deputy commissioner of the FDA Frank Yiannas issued an announcement on Halloween regarding the outbreak and explaining why the FDA didn’t announce anything sooner. According to the press release, neither Yiannas nor the FDA felt as though the public should avoid romaine lettuce since the outbreak wasn’t widespread enough to merit a full recall.
“The FDA is communicating details about the outbreak at this time to help ensure full awareness by the public and to highlight the ongoing importance of industry actions to help ensure the safety of leafy greens. Federal health officials do not believe there is a current or ongoing risk to public health,” the statement read in part.
Produce Industry Under Fire?
Yiannas also urged the leafy green industry to be more selective and careful in their production practices. Just last year, two outbreaks of lettuce-related E. coli killed five people and made 270 others very ill.
Some commentators were alarmed that the FDA and CDC worked with the produce industry to keep this outbreak quiet. After all, it resulted in 23 people across 12 states falling ill. Of them, 11 were so sick that they needed to be hospitalized.
Frankly, we hope the FDA and CDC are more vigilant in alerting the public to such outbreaks in the future.