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Listeria risk prompts recall by Calif. lettuce grower

Heads of romaine lettuce fill a produce case at the Fruit Barn produce store in San Francisco.
Heads of romaine lettuce fill a produce case at the Fruit Barn produce store in San Francisco. Getty Images

(CBS/AP) A new Listeria outbreak - this time in chopped romaine lettuce - has prompted a voluntary recall and FDA investigation.

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True Leaf Farms of Salinas, Calif., said Thursday it was recalling lettuce bags with a "use by date of Sept. 29,"  though no illnesses have been reported. The recall is for 90 cartons that were shipped to an Oregon food service distributor. From the distributor, it might have gone to at least Washington and Idaho.

The lettuce was also shipped to Alaska, CBS News reported.

The FDA notified the company that a sample from one bag taken as part of random testing found the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

California health officials are also looking into the contamination, said Ken August, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, but have not yet determined how the lettuce became contaminated.

"Anytime there is a contaminated food product, we are concerned and take steps so that it's removed from shelves as quickly as possible and to notify consumers," August said.

The recall covers product with a use by date of Sept. 29. The bag and box code is B256-46438-8. Pictures of the recalled codes can be found here. Most of the lettuce was sold to California institutions such as restaurants and cafeterias, August said, and only a small amount went to retail in other states.

The country is already on high alert over Listeria, since there's also an ongoing outbreak linked to cantaloupes that has caused at least 72 illnesses, including up to 16 deaths, in 18 states, CBS News reported.

But there is no connection between the lettuce recall and the cantaloupe-linked outbreak, FDA spokesman Douglas Karas, told Reuters.

The Salinas Valley is known as the "Salad Bowl of the World" for its lettuce production.

Steve Church, CEO of Church Brothers, which sells and markets the farm's produce, said lettuce currently picked at the farm is safe to eat. The company is working with the FDA, Church said, to determine if there are any problems at the farm and is taking more time to sanitize its produce.

Listeria generally sickens the elderly, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever and muscle aches, often with other gastrointestinal symptoms. Unlike many pathogens, Listeria bacteria can grow at room temperatures and even refrigerator temperatures - and can linger long after the source of the contamination is gone.

Anyone who has the lettuce in their possession should not eat it, and should either destroy it or call Church Brothers, LLC for product pickup, the FDA said.

Consumers with questions may call Church Brothers, LLC, the sales agent for True Leaf Farms, at 800-799-9475, or may visit their website for updates.

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