At least 40 confirmed cases of the infection with the highly toxic pathogen E. coli O157:H7 have been linked to commercial bagged lettuce distributed by Aunt Mid’s Produce, but the Detroit-based company refuses to name the supplier of the contaminated product. Thirty of the illnesses are in Michigan; the others have been documented in Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Oregon.
“Food borne illnesses are often difficult to trace, as we saw this summer with the tomato-pepper Salmonella outbreak,” said food safety advocate and attorney William Marler. “You want to get to the source as quickly as possible in order to stop the flow of contaminated produce and alert those who might have it in hand to discard or return it. In this case, we have a trail leading directly to the door of the distributor—Aunt Mid’s Produce—and they’re blocking the trail there. Not revealing the source of the contaminated lettuce means that there could be other contamination—in fields or in the supply chain—which is not being stopped. It’s completely irresponsible and should be illegal.”
E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with leafy greens are not a new phenomenon. The FDA has reported that in the last 12 years, twenty-two E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to consumption of contaminated leafy greens have made more than 700 consumers ill. Marler recently released a history of leafy greens and E. coli documenting the outbreaks.
“It’s bad enough that they refuse to name their source,” continued Marler. “But on their website, they go so far as to say that no contamination has been found in their products. This claim is disingenuous at best, reflecting tests done on other product in hand. The link to Aunt Mid’s is clear, and so is their responsibility to the consumer—to reveal where the tainted lettuce originated, so that testing can pinpoint the source, and it can be stopped. Lettuce is highly perishable; every day that passes means information lost.”