Welcome to food safety in the Social Media world. Last week Consumer Reports felt that the FDA was not doing enough to protect consumers from an E. coli outbreak. Their experts felt strongly that the E. coli bacteria came from Romaine lettuce. No one knows if it came from packaged romaine, baby romaine, mixed bags of baby romaine, who distributed it, what farm it came from, etc.
What we do know is that there is anecdotal evidence that Romaine might be a common food eaten by the people who got sick. At that time there had been 17 cases in the United States over a 6-week period. There have been thousands of romaine lettuce heads sold during this time. E. coli is a very serious bacteria and can be deadly and at a minimum make a person very sick.
Romaine lettuce is suspected to be the carrier, but it is not clear if it is the romaine, or water it was washed in/irrigated with, or what region, or farm where the bacteria started from. Traceability is a big part of the solution. But the sheer size of our nation and its population makes tracing outbreaks like this really difficult.
The Centers for Disease Control, FDA, and USDA are all working on it and at this point cannot conclusively answer any of the who, what, when, why and where. Which is why there hasn’t been an official warning or recall yet. That might all change in the next few days, as I am writing this newsletter on Friday.
Here is what I can tell you. I have been a farmer for 20 years and been in the produce business for 25 years. Our fruit and vegetable food system is incredibly safe and during my tenure there has been only 1 vegetable related outbreak that is forever etched in my memory. It was the Spinach E. coli outbreak that sickened 276 people in 2006. They believe the contamination occurred from water in an irrigation ditch used to irrigate the spinach. But even this event took a few weeks to track down the source.
That event created what is now called the Food Safety Modernization Act and placed farm inspections into the hands of the FDA. As an aside, most food recalls are centered around processed foods, meat or packaged fruit and vegetables.
Klesick’s has been delivering fresh produce for over 20 years. We have deep relationships that go back just as long. When and if a food recall were to happen, we can reach out to our suppliers or other farms in a heartbeat. We can go right to the invoices and see where the product came from and, in many cases, we know immediately what field it was grown in. We also know which customers received the item in question and can contact them by email or phone based on the situation and all this can be done within an hour. I hope I never have to do any of this, but I know it can be done.
Being a small farm and small business with long standing relationships with other farmers and suppliers helps us provide the safest and most nutritious organically grown produce to you and your families.
Your Farmer and Health Advocate,