FDA delayed E. coli outbreak announcement by nearly a month

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said last week that a previously unreported E. coli outbreak occurred between July and September, affecting nearly two dozen people who ate tainted Romaine lettuce.

News of the outbreak, first reported Friday by The Washington Post, came nearly a month after the Post found that FDA officials knew the cause of the outbreak. Both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) knew that leafy greens were linked to the illnesses in several states by Oct. 2, according to the newspaper.

{mosads}A CDC official told the Post that the agency “generally posts outbreak warnings when there is something actionable for consumers to do.”

“In this case, while there was no actionable consumer information associated with this particular outbreak and the outbreak was over prior to the determination of a vehicle, given the noteworthy nature of this outbreak and an interest in accelerating awareness, we chose to communicate through an FDA statement in the short term in order to ensure full awareness by the public,” an FDA spokesman told The Hill.

“The FDA and CDC’s proactive sharing of information in this incident in a more timely manner in this particular case is part of our ongoing commitment to transparency. We also intend to follow up with the more traditional communications tool at a later date,” they added.

A food safety lawyer based in Seattle, Bill Marler, asserted to the Post that the weeks-long delay in the FDA’s reporting of the incident amounts to a “lie” to the public.

“If I eat romaine lettuce, and I found out romaine lettuce poisoned 11 people and put them in the hospital, I may not want to eat romaine lettuce,” Marler told the newspaper. “It’s a lie to the public in all respects. People who are in charge of our public health are not telling the public what’s going on.”

“All of those outbreaks share the same fact pattern as this one — the only difference is they decided not to tell us about this one,” he reportedly added. “Pick whatever excuse you want, but whatever it is, it’s a ridiculous excuse.”

FDA officials said in the Thursday news release that no ongoing health risk to the public remains.

“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 no longer available for sale,” officials wrote.

“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 agency continued.

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