Saturday, October 15, 2011


This had not been a good couple of weeks for lettuce lovers in the U.S. And that just about covers everyone except me (I prefer arugula). What is more, the lettuce safety issue is becoming downright confusing. And, I am sure we haven't seen the end of it yet.

On October 1, I blogged the finding of Listeria monocytogenes in chopped romaine lettuce, produced by True Leaf Farms of Salinas, California, which issued a recall of its suspect products. Now there is another ready-to-use lettuce recall announced by Giant Eagle Farmer's Market, which is the largest supermarket in Western Pennsylvania. Giant Eagle is recalling eight ounce packages of Shredded Iceberg Lettuce as well as a number of deli products which used lettuce from the same lot, all with a use by date of October 14,2011.

Of course, they didn't grow the lettuce themselves. It came from a Salinas, California processor called River Ranch Fresh Foods, which, by the way, prides itself on its safety. The reason is the same as in the earlier (True Leaf Farms) recall - Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in the lettuce. But it's a different kind of lettuce. This company has not issued a recall of its lettuce, although it says it is co-operating with investigators.*

Now let's get to the broader issue. It seems that the problem is centered on lettuce from the Salinas area of California, with different kinds of lettuce involved. The question is: was the lettuce contaminated on the farm, or, at the processor's? It could be either. If Listeria got in at the farm level, that means it is probably in the growing environment, and could also affect other farms nearby. If it got in during washing, shredding or cutting at River Ranch, it could mean that this company has a contamination problem, and this could also affect lettuce from other farms that it is processing with the same contaminated equipment.

Either way, it is a bad situation. Listeria monocytogenes bacteria which can be deadly, especially to vulnerable people (such as pregnant women, newborns, those with weakened immune systems). And, remember that it can take as long as two months, and occasionally, even longer, for symptoms to appear.

So what are we to do? On my part, I have decided to avoid all California-grown leafy greens for a while until we find out more about where the contamination occured. And that applies to both ready-to-eat and whole (most would come from the Salinas area). I'll give up arugula too for good measure. Listeriosis is not something I want.

To your good health,

UPDATE: River Ranch has finally had to issue a recall of its Farmers Market and Hy-Vee brand iceberg, romaine and blended lettuce products. These salad products were distributed in Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and sold in retail supermarkets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is California's Dept of Agriculture doing? California's agri industry is one of its shining stars and the Dept is just sitting on its hands!