Federal investigators for the first time are recommending a fresh produce item be labeled with its place of origin after narrowing in on where the e.coli-tainted romaine lettuce likely came from that led to the recent outbreak.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday it is suggesting all romaine lettuce now bear harvest date and location information to help consumers and trace back efforts when food-safety breaches do occur -- and industry agreed.
The contaminated lettuce is believed to have come from California’s Central Coast region. Agency officials say it’s likely safe for consumers to eat romaine from other regions, which they will soon be able to see on the lettuce packaging.
"The FDA’s announcement is important in that it addresses, for the first time, the need for place-of-origin labeling for fresh produce,” said Creighton Magid, partner at Dorsey & Whitney and head of the law firm’s Washington, D.C. office. “Unlike manufactured products, which can be traced through serial numbers, a consumer generally has no way to know where fresh produce was grown.”
Without a serial code or place-of-origin label, outbreaks are more difficult to trace, resulting in massive recalls that blanket an entire food item, like the most recent romaine lettuce outbreak, which occurred days before Thanksgiving.
“By encouraging place-of-origin labeling for romaine lettuce, the FDA is moving the entire produce industry toward labeling that will make outbreak response more effective and safety warnings to consumers more targeted," Magid said in an emailed statement.
Still, the FDA’s advice for origin labeling doesn’t yet extend to other types of lettuce and fresh produce.