No recall of romaine lettuce yet after US food poisoning outbreak but AVA urges vigilance

Romaine lettuce on sale at a Whole Foods supermarket in Washington, DC in the US on Nov 20, 2018.
Romaine lettuce on sale at a Whole Foods supermarket in Washington, DC in the US on Nov 20, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The Republic imports some romaine lettuce from the United States, local authorities confirmed, after warnings by American health officials not to eat the vegetable, as they have been linked to an outbreak of food poisoning in the US.

But as of 11.20pm on Wednesday (Nov 21) local time, neither the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) nor the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had issued a recall for romaine lettuce.

The AVA said on Wednesday that no specific brand of lettuce or farm have been identified by US authorities in relation to the outbreak. It has also reminded the food industry here to be vigilant.

As a precautionary measure, the AVA added that consumers who have bought romaine lettuce and are uncertain where the vegetable was sourced from should throw the lettuce away.

The authority also advised consumers to practice good food handling habits. For instance, in order to avoid cross contamination, consumers should wash their hands, utensils and food preparation surfaces before and after handling raw food. They should also separate raw food from cooked or ready-to-eat food.

AVA said in a statement on Thursday that 16 tonnes of romaine lettuce were imported from the US in the first half of 2018. This is less than 1 per cent of all romaine lettuce imported during that period, it added.

On Tuesday, the US CDC said that the romaine lettuce-linked food poisoning outbreak was due to the E. coli bacteria.

No deaths have been reported so far but 32 cases of food poisoning were reported across 11 states in the US, with 13 people hospitalised and one patient developing a form of kidney failure.

The affected consumers in the US fell sick between Oct 8 and Oct 31. The CDC said that investigations were ongoing, and that US consumers with any type of romaine lettuce in their homes should throw the vegetable away, even if some of it was eaten without anyone falling ill.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea which is often bloody, and vomiting, said the CDC. Some people may get a fever, which usually is less than 38.5 deg C.

Most people recover within five to seven days, but infections can range in severity from very mild to life-threatening.