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Romaine lettuce growers feel impact after E-Coli outbreak

The E-Coli outbreak that has been linked to romaine lettuce has now resulted in the death of a person in California. More than 120 people have been infected with the bacteria, and has been called 'the worst E-Coli outbreak in a decade'. 

The bacteria has been traced back to a farm near Yuma and it is noteworthy to mention that all romaine lettuce production has now completely transitioned to California, meaning that in theory, no lettuce from Arizona should still be in circulation. Regardless, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken the step to encourage consumers to dispose of any romaine lettuce whose origins cannot be confirmed.

Outbreak contained?
At this stage, the only romaine lettuce producer linked with the E-Coli outbreak is a farm in Arizona, where production of romaine lettuce has finished for the season. A statement from Teressa Lopez of the Arizona Leafy Greens Food Safety Committee was issued, which said, "We want to assure public health agencies that romaine lettuce is no longer being harvested in the Yuma, AZ growing region. United States Department of Agriculture Market News Shipping records maintained by the Arizona Department of Agriculture indicate the last date romaine lettuce was shipped from Arizona was April 16.”

While the CDC will continue to investigate any other potential sources, it appears that all the current illnesses stem from romaine lettuce grown in Yuma. "None of the illnesses reported in this outbreak have been linked to romaine lettuce grown in California,” said Scott Horsfall, of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. “The vast amount of romaine currently being harvested today and for the past few weeks is from California. A small amount of romaine is also being harvested in Florida and central Mexico, but harvest of romaine in Arizona has ceased." 

Growers feeling impact
California based growers of romaine are now being impacted by the fallout from the outbreak. Consumers are avoiding romaine and the dumping order by the CDC has resulted in retailers being cautious. 

"It has definitely slowed down movement," said John Paul Oliver of Oxnard-based Pacific Fresh Produce. "Reports on the news and the investigation by the CDC has resulted in the dumping of romaine lettuce and as a result, the markets are depressed and prices have dropped significantly. All of the California growing regions are affected, from Oxnard to Salinas as well as Santa Maria, despite the fact that the infected lettuce originated in Arizona."

Oliver noted that consumers are rightfully asking question about the origins of the lettuce they are eating, but he said it's not always that easy. "It can be difficult for consumers to know where their lettuce is coming from," he said. "This is especially the case in places such as restaurants and salad bars where there is very little labeling." 

He added that it will take time for the public to regain confidence in buying romaine lettuce. "The passing of time and the release of correct, valid information from the government organizations overseeing it, will help," he said. "Once the public understands that it is safe to consume romaine lettuce again, will we have a return to a steady market."
For more information:
John Paul Oliver
Pacific Fresh Produce
Tel: +1 (805) 247-1824

April Ward
Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement
Tel: +1 (916) 947-0751

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