While I was “vacationing” in Greece and Italy over the last weeks, Fresh Express was recalling even more romaine lettuce salad products because of potential E. coli contamination (an earlier Salmonella recall occurred two months ago). Of course, that does not count a Fresh Express outbreak that did sicken people in April and no recall occurred. Also, in July Ready Pac Foods Inc. recalled 702 cases of Spinach following a positive test for E. coli O157:H7. The recalls followed random positive result for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella conducted by a third-party laboratory for the Food and Drug Administration.
In the recalls, no illnesses related to the recalled products have been reported. However, earlier this year shredded romaine lettuce processed by Freshway Foods, Sidney, Ohio, was contaminated with E. coli O145, a less-known strain, sickening at least 30 people in five states. In that outbreak we still do not know the name of the farm in Yuma that grew the lettuce.
In the middle of the 2006 Spinach E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, I asked the following question – “Is convenience worth the risk?”:
When you’re eating a bag, you may be eating parts of ten, twenty, thirty, forty bunches of spinach or lettuce. You have a couple of pieces of bad heads of lettuce or bad bunches of spinach and it gets massively processed in a big facility that gets spread out among hundreds if not thousands of bags. Perhaps we’ve reached a point where all of us need to strike a new balance between what is convenient and what is risk.
Of course, buying non-bagged product – or, even growing your own – is no guarantee that the product is not contaminated.
Perhaps it is time to engage in an open discussion on irradiation? Over a year and a half ago, I penned, "Pros and Cons of Commercial Irradiation of Fresh Iceberg Lettuce and Fresh Spinach: A Literature Review."