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H-E-B, Whataburger, Kroger voluntarily remove romaine lettuce products amid E. coli investigation

U.S. health officials on Friday told people to avoid romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, California, because of another food poisoning outbreak.

H-E-B, Kroger and Whataburger have voluntarily removed all romaine lettuce products after U.S. officials alerted to an E. coli outbreak.

On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told people to avoid romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, California. An investigation tied to the illness led to farms in Salinas and investigators are currently looking for the source of E. coli.

The CDC says 40 people have been reported sick so far in 16 states. The most recent reported illness started on Nov. 10. The agency says it’s the same E. coli strain tied to previous outbreaks, including the one from last Thanksgiving.

Officials urge not to eat the leafy green if the label doesn’t say where it was grown. They have also urged supermarkets and restaurants not to serve r sell the lettuce, unless they’re sure it was grown elsewhere.

RELATED: Don’t eat romaine lettuce from Salinas, California, US officials say

H-E-B posted the following statement on their website:

Committed to the quality of its products and the safety of its customers, H-E-B is voluntarily removing all products that contain romaine lettuce from its stores. This is in response to the CDC and the FDA issuing a notice to retailers and suppliers to withdraw romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas, California due to a potential contamination of E. coli. The CDC and FDA also are advising customers throughout the U.S. to avoid purchasing and eating romaine lettuce from Salinas, California.

Customers who purchased the product should throw it away or can return it for a full refund. Customers with any questions or concerns may contact H-E-B Customer Service at 1-855-432-4438 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central Standard Time.

During a visit to Whataburger, a KHOU 11 producer came across a sign on a drive-thru window that read, “Out of an abundance of caution, we are not selling salads due to a CDC investigation of romaine lettuce from certain regions.”

Kroger is also taking caution and has removed all romaine lettuce from its stores. They released the following statement: 

Providing fresh, safe and affordable food is our number one priority. To protect our customers, we are removing all romaine products sourced from the affected region. We will continue to carry romaine products sourced from other geographies. 

Credit: KHOU

After last year’s pre-Thanksgiving outbreak tied to romaine, the produce industry agreed to voluntarily label the lettuce with harvest regions. Health officials said that would make it easier to trace romaine and issue more specific public health warnings when outbreaks happen.

Officials never identified exactly how romaine might have become contaminated in past outbreaks. But another outbreak in spring 2018 that sickened more than 200 people and killed five was traced to tainted irrigation water near a cattle lot. (E. coli is found in the feces of animal like cows.)

It’s not clear exactly why romaine keeps popping up in outbreaks, but food safety experts note the popularity of romaine lettuce and the difficulty of eliminating risk for produce grown in open fields and eaten raw.

Industry groups noted that they tightened safety measures following last year’s outbreaks, including expanding buffer zones between growing fields and livestock.