In an LA Times article E. Coli Outbreaks Prompt Review of Salinas Valley Lettuce Farms, Rong-Gong Lin II reports that Salinas Valley growers’ practices are being evaluated by state and federal health officials after their products’ link to repeated illnesses.

From the article:

Lettuce and spinach grown in the valley, dubbed the "Salad Bowl of the World," have been connected to eight of 19 outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7, associated with such produce since 1995. The eight outbreaks have sickened at least 217 people in eight states, including two who died at a retirement home in Northern California in 2003.

"That organism is so virulent, it is particularly dangerous," said Robert Brackett, who directs the food safety division at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is leading the investigation.

The recent inspections, which started in late August and will continue through the fall, come after nearly a year of heightened pressure from FDA and state officials to reduce the risk of E. coli contamination. The agencies’ concern was intensified when at least 34 people in Minnesota were sickened last year after consuming packaged Dole salad from the Salinas Valley.

The valley grows the vast majority of the nation’s lettuce, thanks to the region’s relatively cool climate. Though the outbreaks thus far appear not to have affected sales, some experts say continued reports of infection could erode confidence in the $2-billion-a-year lettuce industry. In addition, such problems can be a liability for produce distributors and food establishments that serve the greens.

One lawyer, Bill Marler, has represented more than 70 clients in cases linked to Salinas Valley lettuce, with settlements he described ranging from the tens of thousands to millions of dollars.