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Romaine lettuce linked to another E. coli outbreak, but appears to be over

The FDA says by the time it identified romaine lettuce as the likely source of the outbreak, the tainted produce was no longer on store shelves.

U.S. health officials disclosed another food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, but they said it appears to be over.

The disclosure late Thursday comes after the produce industry said it was stepping up safety measures following a series of outbreaks , including one last year that sickened more than 200 people and killed five. It's not clear why romaine keeps sickening people, but experts note the difficulty of eliminating risk posed by raw vegetables grown in open fields.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said 23 people were sickened between July 12 and Sept. 8. No deaths were reported. As with previous outbreaks, the agency said it was unable to determine how the romaine became contaminated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said by Sept. 19 leafy greens were suspected for the cluster of E. coli illnesses, and that romaine was determined as the likely source Oct. 2.

The FDA, which overseas produce safety, said its data indicated the tainted produce was no longer on shelves by the time romaine was identified as the likely culprit. FDA representatives weren't immediately available to provide further details Friday.

The spring 2018 outbreak that sickened more than 200 people was traced to Yuma, Arizona, one of two regions that grow most the country's romaine. A massive cattle feedlot in the area was identified as a potential contamination source.

Months later, just before Thanksgiving, the FDA warned people to avoid romaine because of another E. coli outbreak. That was traced to central California, the other key region where romaine is grown.

Produce groups in the two states have said growers tightened safety measures. The FDA is partnering with scientists to study how romaine may have become tainted.

RELATED: University of Arizona scientists to study Yuma lettuce outbreak

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"While we do not believe there is a current or ongoing risk to the public and we are not recommending consumers avoid any product, because of our commitment to “transparency”, we wanted to share what we know with the  public and stakeholders," FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas tweeted. "This outbreak, along with previous outbreaks linked to romaine, reinforces the recommendations we’ve made to the leafy green industry: a) producers must review & adhere to safe practices & b) the entire leafy green continuum needs to  improve their traceability capabilities." 

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