Recent major recalls of romaine lettuce have increased the concern certified food protection managers have for putting romaine on their menus and calls into question the future of this crispy green lettuce as a staple in the industry. In mid-February, the FDA report on romaine lettuce concluded its research into the latest recall of E.coli contaminated lettuce and was able to not only trace the source of the contaminated romaine, but also the likely method of contamination.
FDA Report on Romaine Lettuce Linked to E.coli Contamination
The FDA has traced the origin of contaminated lettuce to a farm in Santa Barbara County, CA. More specifically, the FDA report on romaine lettuce has discovered an unsanitized water reservoir with traces of the same strain of E.coli that was used by several ranches in the community. The water from this reservoir is the mostly likely cause of contamination causing food-borne illness across the nation. E.coli can into contact with lettuce during rinsing after harvest or during harvest by coming into contacted with harvesting equipment that had been washed with contaminated water.
Now that we have this information from the FDA report on romaine lettuce, it brings up two questions:
- Why such a massive recall if the outbreak can be traced back to one specific growing area?
- How can certified food protection managers use this information to keep their product safe?
The answer to the first one is simple; there is no efficient method to trace the source of contaminated produce. There are numerous farms and ranches that produce romaine lettuce, and with so many major producers and buyers, the process of tracing back a single head, case or major supply can often take time. Restaurant suppliers purchase their lettuce from numerous sources, so the romaine you receive on a Tuesday can come from one part of California while Friday’s shipment originates in another or even New Mexico. The CDC and FDA simply have to err on the side of caution when it comes to issuing warnings and recalls for any major product.
Finally, and unfortunately, when it comes to E.coli and lettuce, the only recourse food safety managers have is to throw out recalled product and alter their menus in the event of an outbreak. Rinsing lettuce will not one-hundred percent remove E.coli from any produce product.
With such a large amount of lettuce suppliers, do you think any tracking system of contaminated product is possible, or will major nationwide recalls become the norm?