Here's what's wrong with romaine lettuce


Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Some Romaine lettuce is safe to eat again. FDA and CDC announced on November 28 that they had reduced the recent E. coli epidemic of salad grown in fields (not greenhouses) in California. This means that Florida lettuce or most local farms is probably healthy to eat. But the problems of Romaine are not settled.

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What about romaine lettuce?

There was another E. coli Romaine lettuce hatch earlier this year, and there have been others in the past. There will probably be more in the future.

Vegetables, including lettuce, are a major source of foodborne illness. Some factors that play against Romaine here:

  • Lettuce is not (usually) cooked before being eaten. Cooking kills bacteria, so raw vegetables are riskier.
  • Roman and other green vegetables are difficult to wash effectively. You are as likely to spread the bacteria as to eliminate it.
  • Lettuce requires a lot of water during its growth (each lettuce bite contains very little nutrients and a lot of water). Pathogens can enter contaminated water.
  • Romaine is really popular. Kale probably also has his epidemics, but more and more people are eating Roman. It simply means that epidemics are larger and more remarkable.

Packaged salad vegetables pose an additional problem: they are washed, often mixed with green vegetables from other farms. Personally, I give a serious side to green salad, even if I become lazy and use them sometimes.

The answer is to buy local?

Smaller local farms are excellent in many ways, but they do not provide any insurance against foodborne illness. The reason we never hear about huge outbreaks from small farms is simply that they are small. If some people get sick, the data may not be enough to let anyone know what food has made them sick. (Do not forget that most cases of food poisoning reported come from people so sick that they needed medical care.For every case reported, there are probably many more who have passed unnoticed.)

For now, we know there is a California lettuce outbreak. If you buy something on a Tennessee farm, you can at least know that it is not involved in the California outbreak. But is it safer in general? Probably not.

Can we blame politics for that?

Somehow, but maybe not as you think.

According to a rumor, the FDA, under President Trump, reportedly stopped forcing farms to test their water for pathogen research. The truth is that the rule of water analysis was proposed in 2011 and continues to be delayed. It would have taken effect this year, but was postponed to 2022, reports Wired.

So, testing the water would be fine, but a bacterium causing illness can occasionally appear, never register for tests, and still be present enough to make people sick. The tests alone will not stop the outbreaks transmitted by lettuce.

Sarah Taber, scientist and food systems strategist, noted on Twitter that many lettuce producers are already doing this test. But she says that there are probably multi-level problems that make lettuce outbreaks more likely.

She emphasized that food security requires well-trained staff, good procedures and a strict sick leave policy. "None of these things are compatible with a terrified, broken workforce, with no access to health care, no bargaining power in the workplace, and threatened with desperation by the threat of being reported to ICE. . "

Stopping the crackdown on immigration would probably make our food safer for everyone; it would be the same for other policies and practices that benefit agricultural workers.

How do we know where our lettuce comes from?

It's not always labeled well enough to be detectable, but it will change soon. When this outbreak was first announced, the warning was that all Romaine was suspicious. Producers of romaine in Florida had to destroy thousands of pounds of perfectly good lettuce.

Fortunately, the FDA begins to demand that the Roman be marked with the place where it was grown. Now they understand that lettuce that made people sick came from parts of California. (There is a list of counties to avoid here.) Different parts of the United States grow lettuce at different times; When the spring of 2018 hit, Yuma, Arizona, supplied most of the country's lettuce. In the hope that better monitoring can help detect epidemics more quickly.

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