I know, I know. People got sick from romaine lettuce and they had to…recall all the romaine lettuce in the United States and Canada? Seriously? Do you remember the leafy greens ban back in January, or the romaine ban that happened back in April? No?
The Great Leafy Greens Ban of January 2018. (That never happened.)
Do you remember the Great Leafy Greens Ban of January 2018? No? Because there wasn’t any. Why? In January of this year, there was an E. coli outbreak. “The CDC traced 25 illnesses in 15 states and a death in California to the outbreak.” This outbreak reached from the U.S. to Canada, exactly like the current outbreak. But “no recall in either country was initiated, and to date no suppliers, growers or origin of production has been identified.” That’s right, a year later we still haven’t identified the source, and yet we didn’t pull all the leafy greens in the U.S. and Canada.
The Yuma Romaine Ban of April 2018 (That never happened.)
Then in April of 2018, we had another outbreak. This one involved romaine lettuce and went on for months. Before they found the source, the FDA recommended that consumers “practice safe food handling and preparation and to consult a health care provider if they think they might have symptoms of E. coli infection.” What? No recall? Nope. Even after that outbreak was linked to a specific growing region (Yuma, Arizona) and they knew the romaine could be in the food supply throughout the country, no recall was made. This outbreak had over two hundred illnesses, 96 hospitalizations, and five deaths. But no recall.
The Great Romaine Ban of November 2018 (this is happening?)
So now we’re all out of romaine, because the “CDC is advising that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until we learn more about the outbreak. This investigation is ongoing and the advice will be updated as more information is available.” We’re talking a blanket ban on all romaine lettuce countrywide and into Canada. Really?
Now, I’m not saying I don’t feel for those affected. I’m saying I don’t understand the response. According to the FDA, the last case associated with this November outbreak was October 31st. We had 32 cases and 13 hospitalizations. No reported deaths.
More importantly, the genetic material of this E. coli outbreak looks an awful lot like the E. coli outbreak that happened in January of this year in the leafy greens (and possibly in romaine back then, but they weren’t sure).
In other words, this outbreak is really likely to be the SAME problem to the FDA didn’t deal with back in January. A year later, the same producer is still using the same contaminated water source and we’re all getting sick again.
Here’s the rub. It’s the same problem, but we’re all out of romaine now. Completely different reaction. We didn’t even get the middle warning of “wash your romaine.” Just complete ban.
Before you think, “well, it’s good for our health” realize that we’re talking about the destruction of an industry, without any real evidence that we’re going to be safer. Romaine lettuce sales are down $71 million dollars this year. Next year growers are going to grow something else, if they’re still in business. And we’re going to continue to have E. coli outbreaks because we no longer have the time to wash our own vegetables.