Growers comment on link to E. coli

Uncertainty is being created around Romaine lettuce

Lettuce growers in California have been concerned by reports in the media regarding a possible E. coli outbreak that Canadian health authorities have linked to Romaine lettuce. With limited data, Canadian authorities are recommending consumers to stay away from eating Romaine lettuce. 

"Based on the limited details that have been provided, the public statement not to eat Romaine lettuce seems somewhat premature,” says a California lettuce grower. “The impact on the industry can be significant and before making such a public statement, more hard data should be available.” The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still collecting information to determine whether there is a food item in common among sick people, including leafy greens and romaine. 

Orders being canceled
“With limited evidence, Romaine lettuce could suddenly become the spinach of 2006,” the source mentioned. “Although many customers continue buying Romaine lettuce, we are also dealing with orders being canceled. Retailers are hesitant to sell Romaine lettuce and chefs prefer to put a different lettuce variety on the menu. The problem is that many people start to believe what the media writes.” Despite the uncertainty, the company involved continues its Romaine lettuce program according to its initial plans. “As long as there is no confirmation of the definite source of the outbreak, we will continue planting. We have to, because it currently takes 85 days from planting the seed to harvest.”

“We are one of the largest (Romaine) lettuce growers in North America and I am certain we would have been informed by the authorities if our Romaine lettuce was suspect in the outbreak. As far as we know, we are not involved. Our Food Safety Committee as well as the LGMA and United Fresh are on top of the issue."


Growers concerned by effects on business
Other growers that were contacted by FreshPlaza shared similar comments. "We have not been contacted by any regulatory agencies regarding the potential E. Coli contamination," said another California-based lettuce grower. "Additionally, there has been no link made by the CDC to any particular products, and they are currently still investigating. It's business as usual for us and shipments have been unaffected. We are certainly concerned by the reports of E. Coli and will keep a close eye on the issue as it develops."

In the wake of the reports, some growers have been facing questions by customers. They say it is unjustified, given the lack of any evidence of the link of the E. Coli outbreak with lettuce products. "It's been a knee jerk reaction to something that has not been proven," another grower said. "The CDC are still investigating and have not contacted any growers regarding this matter. The lettuce growing community, although large, is tight knit and it saddens us to see some businesses being affected based on an unfounded claim."

"Some customers had canceled Romaine lettuce orders immediately after the reports came out," he said. "However, those customers returned a few days later once they realized that there was no basis to the claims. There have also been reports of a lot of product being thrown away in Canada. We are continuing to deal with it in the background, but business is continuing as normal."

The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are still undertaking their investigations, and maintain that currently there is not enough proof to link the E. Coli outbreak to any particular product.

Written by Dennis Rettke and Marieke Hemmes.

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