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Latest Romaine E. Coli Outbreak A 'Tough One For CDC,' Food Scientist Says

The CDC now says that some Romaine lettuce is safe to eat, after the agency traced the outbreak of E Coli to Romaine grown in California’s central coast region. The news comes after the agency last week put out a broad-based warning:

“Do not eat any romaine lettuce, including whole heads and hearts, chopped, organic and salad mixes with romaine until we learn more. If you don’t know if it’s romaine or can’t confirm the source, don’t eat it.”

Martin Wiedmann, a food science professor at Cornell University, says this is not a typical recall, where a certain company recalls their product and notifies the businesses and customers who purchased it. In this case, the CDC did not know where the affected romaine was from, and opted to put out a broader warning.

“It is unusual to put out such a broad warning for such a popular and commonly consumed item, but I think CDC just needed more time and probably thought they had to do something before Thanksgiving,” Wiedmann tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson.

But putting out such a widespread warning can also cause a lot of economic harm to romaine producers whose product was not connected to the outbreak.

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“As we get better and better tools to detect smaller and smaller outbreaks, when do we put out these broad-based warnings to basically take off a commonly consumed food completely? And how long do we wait until we know more specifics, which company, which area?” Wiedmann says.

“This was a tough one for CDC.”

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