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Romaine Lettuce Recall for E. Coli Expands

A worker harvests romaine lettuce in Salinas, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007. Government regulators never acted on calls for stepped-up inspections of leafy greens after last year's deadly E. coli spinach outbreak, leaving the safety of America's salads to a patchwork of largely unenforceable rules and the industry itself, an Associated Press investigation has found.
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
A recall of romaine lettuce that has sickened students with E. coli poisoning is expanding as the government tries to find out where the contamination occurred.

The Food and Drug Administration said late Monday that a food distributor in Moore, Okla., is recalling romaine lettuce that came from the same farm in Yuma, Ariz., that grew lettuce that sickened students in Michigan, Ohio and New York. Ohio-based Freshway Foods announced a 23-state recall of romaine lettuce last week related to those outbreaks.

At least 19 people have been sickened in connection with the E. coli outbreaks, which come from a rare strain of the disease that is difficult to diagnose. The federal Centers for Disease Control has said they are looking at another 10 probable cases of E. coli poisoning in connection with the tainted lettuce.

The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that they are investigating a farm in Yuma from which the romaine lettuce was harvested and attempting to determine at which point in the supply chain the contamination occurred. The agency appears confident that the tainted lettuce was grown in Yuma, saying in a release issued late Monday night that "lettuce harvested from other geographic areas does not appear to be associated with this outbreak."

Many of those sickened were students at colleges and universities in the three states. Middle and high school students in New York were also sickened, including a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can cause bleeding in the brain or kidneys. Local health authorities in Dutchess County, where the students fell ill, said they are all expected to make a full recovery.

Most of the lettuce recalled was sold to food service establishments. It does not affect bagged lettuce in the grocery store.

California-based Andrew Smith Co. said on Monday that they sold the lettuce to Vaughn Foods in Moore, Okla. and also to another distributor in Massachusetts. Spokeswoman Amy Philpott would not give the name of that distributor because the lettuce is already past its expiration date, she said.

Philpott would not say if Andrew Smith Co. sold the recalled lettuce to Freshway Foods, though she did confirm that Freshway Foods is one of the company's clients.

The "use by" date of the lettuce sold Vaughn Foods is May 9 or 10, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA said that lettuce distributed by the company was sold to restaurants and food service facilities and were not available for purchase at retail by consumers.

Andrew Smith Co. buys bulk romaine lettuce from farms and sells it to distributors. The distributors, such as Freshway Foods and Vaughn Foods, then sell it to food service outlets or retail customers.