An announcement for an investigation was made on November 20 by The Food and Drug Administration of a multiple state outbreak of the E. coli illnesses, that was most likely linked to romaine lettuce. After Canada’s similar situation, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and The Public Health Agency of Canada also started investigating the same illnesses that hit Canada. The FDA basically recommended that people do not eat any romaine lettuce until there is more information about the topic, like where the contamination was from and the status of the outbreak.
The FDA traced the contamination to the central coast growing regions of northern and central California where the romaine had been harvested. And luckily they have said that it appears no other growing regions were involved.
Reported in 12 different states, there were altogether 43 cases of the E. coli illnesses, 16 of which required hospitalization. There were no deaths reported, and an advisory, not a recall, was issued for the lettuce. An advisory is typically issued when it’s a less serious case, meaning if you didn’t want to take the risk of getting sick, then don’t eat the lettuce.
“Usually when theres something out about food having diseases, I just avoid it, but even after they say it’s fine I’m still kind of suspicious,” said junior Maddison Solve.
Grocery stores had different reactions about the lettuce. Some places, removed anything that could contain the E. coli virus from the shelves. Because of this in the stores that kept selling the lettuce, prices went up more than a dollar to around $3.50 a pound.
Jeff Phillips, CEO of Rosauers grocery stores in Idaho and Washington, said they pulled all the lettuce off the shelves till about two weeks after the announcement. The lettuce is supposed to be put back on shelves Friday once all the contaminated ones had been removed from the supply, this was very costly.
Since this is the third contamination of romaine lettuce in the past year, people want there the be an place-of-origin sticker on each pack.This labeling would be similar to the country-of-origin labeling on meat, which helps consumers identify where such products were grown, so it speeds up the process, saving money, time, and even lives.
Nothing of this sort has moved forward quite yet in legislation, but the California produce industry has agreed to begin voluntarily labeling regions where fresh produce is grown.
Chanel Tewalt, a spokeswoman for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, said her agency had not received any complaints about the romaine lettuce contamination, but that’s largely because leafy greens are not a major agricultural crop in this state.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year one in six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food. The center tracks illnesses that are in food and collaborates with state and local health departments and other agencies to investigate outbreaks.
Tewalt said food safety measures that have been put into place over the past 16 years are focused more on education and outreach to try to prevent food contamination outbreaks rather than enforcement.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat in Connecticut serving as chairwoman of the Congressional Food Safety Caucus and a senior Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said voluntary agreements on food labeling are far from adequate to protect public health.
By Jacinda MacCool