The recent E. coli warning for romaine lettuce came at a terrible time for producers. As AgNet West has reported, two days before Thanksgiving the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers and retailers to throw away all romaine lettuce due to a strain of E. coli traced back to the leafy green.
Since then, new labeling is allowing romaine lettuce that is grown outside of California’s Central Coast back on the market. However, the timing of the initial warning hurt producers in all areas. “Yeah it really did and it’s unfortunate that’s what happened,” Produce Marketing Association’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker said. “At that particular time you have vegetables of all kinds coming into the marketplace because you are essentially moving from summer production areas into winter production areas…so you end up hurting the growers that are in the Imperial Valley, over into Yuma and certainly in Florida where they just started harvesting.”
Whitaker said he hopes new labeling will avoid an industry-wide shutdown in the future, but also understands the public safety standpoint of FDA’s announcement days before a major holiday based around food. “According to the CDC, this strain of E. coli is a fairly aggressive one and their first role is to protect public health,” Whitaker said. “It’s a painful situation when that happens but at the end of the day, consumer health becomes something that needs to be protected first and foremost.”