msnbc.com news services
updated 9/30/2011 1:01:17 PM ET 2011-09-30T17:01:17

California-based True Leaf Farms has expanded its recall of chopped romaine lettuce potentially contaminated with listeria to include nearly 2,500 cartons distributed to 21 US states and Canada, company officials said.

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No illnesses have been reported.  

Listeria is a frequent cause of U.S. food recalls but concerns over the bacterial contamination are heightened due to an outbreak linked to cantaloupes grown in Colorado, which has already killed 13 people and infected 72 people across 18 states.

There is no connection between the lettuce recall and the outbreak tied to cantaloupes, the Food and Drug Administration spokesman Douglas Karas said Friday.

True Leaf Farms, a processing arm of Salinas, California-based Church Brothers LLC, is voluntarily recalling romaine that was shipped between Sept. 12 and 13 to a food service distributor in Oregon, who shipped it to Washington and Idaho.

The lettuce was shipped to wholesale food distributors in Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont.

The romaine lettuce affected by the recall has a Sept. 29 use-by date, company officials said in a release.

"Any time we find listeria in food we would consider that food adulterated and ask for a recall," Karas said in an email. "The finding of listeria in romaine lettuce was a result of an FDA research program to understand the prevalence of listeria in fresh produce, particularly lettuce and leafy greens."

Story: Tainted cantaloupe likely gone, but more illness expected

Listeria rarely causes serious illness. For it to do so, the organism needs to get onto the food and grow to levels where it can cause disease. Because it can grow at low temperatures, that can happen anywhere along the food chain.

Listeria outbreaks are usually associated with deli meats, unpasteurized cheeses and smoked refrigerated seafood products, rather than fresh produce.

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Federal health officials say they've gotten better at detecting the germs that cause food poisoning, so they are seeing them in produce more often.

Previous food recalls this month included Queso Fresco's Del Bueno Casero Fresh Cheese in Washington state, Publix Super Markets' spinach dip in Florida and Fine Mexican Food Products Inc's avocado pulp and halves in California.

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

Lettuce currently picked at the farm is safe to eat, said Steve Church, CEO of Church Brothers, which sells and markets the farm's produce. 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.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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