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Iceberg lettuce prices have risen more than 160 percent since the latest E. coli outbreak.
American shoppers didn't waste any time disposing of romaine lettuce when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a national ban in November due to possible E. coli contamination. And while many retailers removed various lettuces from their produce sections, new industry reports suggests that prices for other lettuce varieties actually soared after the CDC's latest ban.
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According to data sourced from the United States Department of Agriculture, it only took a week for consumer demand to cause prices to nearly double, CNBC reports. On November 19, a day before the CDC's latest ban on romaine lettuce, a carton of iceberg lettuce sold at wholesale market value for $20.85 maximum—but on November 21, just a day after the CDC's announcement, the same carton of iceberg lettuce sold for a high of $39.56.
Even though the CDC has since recanted its national romaine lettuce ban after discovering the source of the contamination in California, it seems that consumers may still be steering clear of the leafy green. On November 26, the date when the CDC formally lifted its advisory, the price of the same carton of iceberg lettuce was selling for a high of $45.65 each.
USDA reports point to dwindling supplies of iceberg lettuce, saying that consumer demand simply exceeded what was available on the market—and iceberg lettuce wasn't the only variety with noticeable price increases. Varieties including Boston, red leaf, and green leaf lettuces also followed a similar demand increase.
More on food safety and recalls:
"As always seems to happen, there is an initial response when you take a major component out of the marketplace and others start to fill that gap," Trevor Suslow, the vice president of food safety for the Produce Marketing Association, told CNBC. "Prices certainly have taken an increase."
It's worth noting that romaine accounts for a rather large component of lettuce sales in the United States—for a 52-week period that ended on November 10, romaine made up 38 percent of national lettuce production valued at $1.6 billion, according to Nielsen figures.
Despite earlier romaine recalls and safety advisory notices in 2018, demand for romaine was steady in the days before the latest recall. However, sales data wasn't available during the blanket ban, and it remains to be seen if shoppers have resumed their romaine-buying habits.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has devised a plan to prevent another widespread recall in the future, asking producers and distributors to physically label romaine products with their farm's location and the date it was harvested. And farmers in Yuma, Arizona have taken new steps to keep this upcoming season of romaine lettuce safe from contamination. But one local farmer tells CNBC he's unsure if consumers will bounce back from this latest recall so easily.
"We've seen, maybe, folks have regained confidence more quickly here with romaine," John Boelts told CNBC. "We're seeing OK demand so far, but we'll see how that holds."
Salad Food Poisoning: How It Became a Thing in the US
Close up of contents of open bag of salad. Lettuce and carrots. Deep focus. White background. Horizontal.
If you’ve been watching the news lately, you might have noticed that there’s an E. coli outbreak in the United States. Salad food poisoning has become a thing lately and you should definitely not buy any romaine lettuce for now. Just to be safe.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been giving updates on the salad food poisoning issue. As of May 16, they have counted 172 cases, from 32 states, with one death and 75 other hospitalizations. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the last shipments of the 'culprit' - romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region were harvested on April 16 this year and the harvest season is over. According to the CDC, it's unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still available in stores or restaurants due to its 21-day shelf life.
The one person from California who died because of E. coli was a 16-year old who was eating salads every day because they were trying to keep a healthier lifestyle.
If you're making a spring salad, make sure you know where the ingredients come from.
A surprising clue in the E. coli investigation: Sick inmates in an Alaska prison
Flickr / AgriLife Today
Updated April 30, 2018 to include new case numbers reported by the CDC.
Three weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced it was investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, a particularly fierce strain of the bacteria. At the time, investigators hadn’t pinpointed any specific food, store, or grocery chain.
Three days later, we got an update: The E. coli was most likely coming from chopped romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, where 90 percent of the country’s romaine is produced during the winter months.
A week after that, on April 20, the agency expanded its warning to include whole heads of romaine. Though the outbreak had by then expanded to include 53 cases in 16 states, investigators still had not been able to identify a specific farm or processor, a crucial link that needed to be established before initiating a recall and getting the contaminated lettuce out of the food system.
As of April 30 a recall still has not been announced and CDC continues to recommend that people avoid all romaine lettuce unless they’re certain it’s not from Yuma. The investigation remains open, but researchers are starting to get more clarity on the possible source (or sources) of the outbreak. The case count has risen to 98 people in 22 states including 46 hospitalizations and no deaths.
E. coli O157:H7 can cause bloody diarrhea and extreme stomach upset, but what makes it especially dangerous is that it can precede a life-threatening condition called hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which can in turn cause kidney failure. “We take this strain of E. coli very seriously for these reasons,” says Dr. Joseph McLaughlin, state epidemiologist at the Alaska Division of Public Health.
While investigating the source of an outbreak, epidemiologists have to rely on people’s imperfect memories to identify common threads among confirmed cases—and those are just the people who report their illness. Often, the cause of an outbreak (which can be defined by as little as three or four cases) is never fully known: In the now-infamous E. coli outbreak at Chipotle that started in late 2015, the contaminated ingredient was never identified.
As we reported in December in partnership with The Atlantic, incarcerated people get food poisoning at a rate six times higher than the general population. A lot of that has to do with lackluster food safety practices, but there’s another, less obvious reason outbreaks are commonly identified in correctional facilities: It’s much easier to spot a trend when everyone’s eating the same thing.
“If you have sporadic cases that appear to be coming up randomly in a community, it can take quite a while to narrow things,” McLaughlin says. By contrast, he likens pinpointing an outbreak in an incarcerated population to interviewing a group of people who all went to a restaurant on the same night. “ We can ask folks to review the menu and say, okay, of all these things that were served, what did you eat?”
Epidemiologists were able to confirm a 100-percent match between the Nome correctional facility’s patients and the national outbreak strain. And even though none of the lettuce researchers tested was contaminated with the same strain, they were able to cross-reference the menu with invoices from the kitchen, identifying the processor and farm where it came from.
We’ll likely get another update from CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) soon. In the meantime, we’ll be sticking with arugula.
E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce Spreads Across U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration are warning against the consumption of romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, Calif. due to an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to the greens. If this feels like déjà vu, that’s because we first reported this in late November. Now new cases have been confirmed, as recently as Dec. 1.
Where and When Was the Contaminated Romaine Sold?
According to the CDC, there have been 138 reported cases of illness (including 72 hospitalizations) connected to the contaminated greens. The outbreak extends coast-to-coast with 25 states being affected so far.
The reports of illness span between Sept. 24 and Dec. 1 (see an updated timeline of reported cases), though the CDC notes the time it takes between a person becoming ill and reporting the illness is approximately two to four weeks. If you’ve recently consumed romaine lettuce and are experiencing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, severe diarrhea, or abdominal pain, the CDC advises that you contact your doctor immediately.
What Should You Do If You Recently Purchased Romaine?
If you’ve recently purchased romaine, check for a label and discard the lettuce if it was grown in Salinas. If there is no indication where the lettuce originated, toss it to be safe. Also make sure that you are not storing any prepared food that may contain romaine—if so, dump that too.
The outbreak is connected to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s November 21 recall of over 75,000 pounds of salad products from New Jersey manufacturer Missa Bay.
The E. coli strain O157:H7 which is at the root of the current outbreak is the same one that caused outbreaks stemming from consumption of leafy greens in 2017 and romaine last year.
What do truckers do when told to dump 15 truckloads of lettuce two days before Thanksgiving?
Massive disruptions to the transport of potentially tainted romaine lettuce occurred as 43 people in 12 states were sickened by a particularly dangerous strain of E. coli. This was the third such crisis to hit the romaine industry within the last 12 months.
Truckers working with Allen Lund Company eventually dumped tons of lettuce in landfills and dumps. Because the CDC could not immediately track the source of the contaminated lettuce, both retailers and truckers tossed out the good with the bad.
Eventually, the tainted romaine was traced to growers on the central California coast, but only after lettuce from many other places was thrown out or pulled from store shelves. In the meantime, the price for alternate varieties of lettuce rose quickly, as lettuce supplies contracted and many consumers looked for alternative greens.
This post is based on the Transport Topics article, Romaine Recall Causes Disruption in Trucking Industry, by Jim Stinson, December 3, 2018 and the Cooking Light video, Lettuce is Twice as Expensive, Thanks to Romaine E. coli Outbreak, by Zee Krstic, December 3, 2018. Image source: Ingram Publishing.
1. How do the actions of one grower affect others in the supply chain?
Guidance: Here, the actions of one as of yet unidentified grower caused massive disruptions, losses, and worries about lettuce in the romaine growing community and many others in the food supply chain.
Truckers, retailers, and countless growers who have carefully tended to the safety and quality of their produce have been negatively affected by the tainted lettuce of one farm. Supply chains link together many unrelated businesses and people, and the actions of one often can cause serious repercussions for everyone else.
If a restaurant unknowingly serves contaminated produce, customers may hold it liable. If a store unwittingly sells tainted food items, its name will appear in the headlines. The interconnectedness of the supply chain means that companies are unavoidably linked with others whose carelessness, mistakes, or lack of adequate safety precautions can bring down many others who in fact played no part in the error.
2. What actions does the CDC need to take for the future?
Guidance: Health officials along with growers and distributors are working to find ways to use technology and tracking techniques to better trace and quickly identify the source of future disease outbreaks in the lettuce industry. When the grower or processor of the tainted produce cannot be immediately identified, huge amounts of food waste occur as good products are thrown out with the bad.
Warning! Choose healthy greens carefully – Romaine & e. coli
I apologize for using a sensationalized headline. But there’s lots of truth to it. In case you haven’t heard, a recall of romaine lettuce has been issued by both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), following an outbreak of E. Coli poisoning in 11 States and Canada, where combined, as I write this, 50 people have been poisoned. Although no deaths have been reported with this most recent outbreak, this past spring, there were five deaths attributed to the worst E. Coli poisoning outbreak in a decade.
The latest E. Coli poisoning has seen 13 people hospitalized during the month of October, including one who developed kidney failure. Officials still aren’t exactly sure from where the outbreak emanated. Both the CDC and FDA are advising consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce because the source of the outbreak has yet to be identified.
So if you’re eating out and Caesar salad is your fav, order the mixed greens instead.
The Real Reason Why Romaine Lettuce Isn’t In Chef V Green Drink
Almost every week on my blog, I extol the virtues of green leafy veggies. And more than that, I’ve built a small business empire delivering organic Green Drinks that contain 7 certified-organic green leafy veggies. Thankfully, romaine isn’t one of them. Otherwise, the amp!* would be hitting the fan right now, haha!
But years ago, I made the decision not to include romaine in my ingredients for Green Drink, for two primary reasons. First, although romaine has some nutritional value, it’s at the low end of the totem pole in comparison to other leafy greens.
Chard, one of the 7 leafy greens in Green Drink contains more calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, selenium, phosphorous and zinc than romaine lettuce.
But the biggest reason I’ll never add romaine to my Green Drink is it’s far more susceptible to E. coli contamination than other leafy greens. A big reason for this is how it’s grown. Romaine is mostly grown in Arizona and California, where irrigation water used on romaine fields can become tainted with bacteria from cows. But it’s not like romaine is the only green leafy crop grown in California. Spinach and kale are as well, the latter of which is also in Green Drink. However, kale leaves are tougher and heartier and more resilient against E. Coli.
Healthy Alternatives to Romaine
If you love Caesar salads and substituting romaine for another lettuce is like a carnivore’s worst nightmare of having to eat pea-protein burgers instead of beef, just be patient. In time, the recall will be over.
In the meantime, I suggest skipping romaine lettuce altogether, even long after the recall is officially removed. That’s because there are much healthier greens to eat. And before I list a few of them, let me just say that washing romaine lettuce in water will not get rid of the E. Coli bacteria. (I’ve read that washing it can actually make it worse.)
Kale, collard greens, chard, dandelion greens, and parsley are all featured in my Green Drink. The easiest way to get the benefits of these super greens without having to shop, chop and clean up is to drink 16 0z. of Green Drink a day. If you want to be super healthy, you can start your day off by drinking my Green Drink and then for lunch and/or dinner, have a salad with some of these leafy greens.
5 Reasons Not To Buy Bagged Produce
Try to buy all your leafy greens from a local farmer’s market. Although very convenient and inexpensive, especially from markets like Trader Joe’s ($1.99 for a bag of organic spinach), here are a few reasons why you should never buy bagged greens:
- It doesn’t taste as good as fresh (and it might be several days old by the time you purchase it)
- Not as nutrient rich if it’s bagged (because it’s older)
- Bagged produce is water-intensive (triple washed is not environmentally friendly especially if it’s grown in dry California)
- More likely to have harmful bacteria
- Plastic is not environmentally friendly
Moreover, when you buy packaged produce from the store, do you really feel a connection to the food? Isn’t it a better feeling to buy produce from a farmer’s market? I know it is for me. And for every single bottle of Green Drink my business sells (tens of thousands every year), all the green leafy veggies are grown on small local farms we never use bagged produce. Yes, I know farmer’s market produce is more expensive, but consider cutting out other things in your budget you don’t really need. Besides, isn’t the fresh taste worth the extra price? It is to me.
So if you’re just reading about this romaine recall for the first time and you’re nervous because you have some romaine in your refrigerator, don’t worry. Just follow this advice: place it in a bag, seal the bag, and throw it in the garbage. Make sure you then wash the area in the fridge where the romaine was sitting with some all-natural cleaner and warm soapy water. According to the CDC, if you want to be extra diligent, sanitize your entire fridge with a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid bleach in 1 gallon of water after washing with the warm soapy water.
I’ve added a couple romaine-free salad recipes for you below. Check them out….
Wegmans Recalls Pre Packaged Cauliflower Due to E. coli Concerns
Federal agents issued a new recall for cauliflower and multiple varieties of lettuce grown by the same farm responsible for the romaine-fueled E. coli outbreak just two days ago—now, regional chain Wegmans has launched their own voluntary recall for multiple blends of cauliflower rice and pre-packaged cauliflower products due to E. coli concerns.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the products being recalled from Wegman's were sold in stores as recently as this week—between December 7 and December 18, to be exact. Wegmans' Cauliflower Rice, Veggie Cauliflower Rice Blend, and Stir-Fry Mix With Cauliflower products were sold at 98 different Wegmans stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
No illnesses have been reported as of yet, but the FDA doesn't make it clear if the cauliflower used in Wegmans' ready-to-eat products was sourced from Adam Bros. Farming, Inc, the grower that is currently cooperating with federal investigations to discover the source of the national E. coli outbreak.
"The recall was initiated by Produce Packaging, Inc. based in Cleveland, OH, which supplies these products to Wegmans and notified Wegmans that the product may have been contaminated," the FDA's statement reads.
More on the current E. coli outbreak:
Customers who bought the product using their Wegmans' loyalty card have already received automated phone calls from the grocer urging them to return the product to stores. Wegmans' customer service department is offering shoppers a full refund if they bring the cauliflower products back to their local store—or, at the very least, is asking them to dispose of it immediately.
We'll continue to monitor this recall and whether or not Adam Bros. Farm is implicated in further recalls from third-party suppliers. For more information on the current cauliflower recall, visit the FDA's official recall listing.
Outbreak of E. coli Infections Linked to Romaine Lettuce
This morning's announcement from the Centers for Disease Control:
"CDC is advising that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until we learn more about the outbreak. This investigation is ongoing and the advice will be updated as more information is available.
Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.
This advice includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.
If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.
Wash and sanitize drawers or shelves in refrigerators where romaine was stored. Follow these five steps to clean your refrigerator. "
On Nov. 18, Bonduelle, which owns Ready Pac Foods, issued a statement saying that it had been contacted by the Maryland Department of Health about an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses that appeared to be related to the product. Asked for comment, Bonduelle didn’t respond to our specific questions and referred CR to a statement posted on its website.
Bonduelle’s statement says that the salads were distributed only to Sam’s Clubs—not to other retailers.
In Maryland, the Bistro Chicken Caesar Salad became a focus of the investigation because those affected reported eating it, and the romaine lettuce in an unopened salad still in one victim’s refrigerator tested positive for E. coli O157. However, people in other states have not reported eating the salads.
The Maryland salad kit is marked with a “Best By” date of Oct. 31, 2019, lot number 255406963, and UPC 7774527249. This product is no longer on store shelves, but if you still have it in your refrigerator, do not eat it regardless of the store or state where it was purchased, the FDA says.
The FDA is tracing the source of the lettuce used in this salad and says that it has identified farms to investigate in Salinas, Calif., where the majority of romaine lettuce sold in the U.S. is grown at this time of year. Preliminary information suggests that the lettuce supply in question was harvested in mid-October and is no longer on the market.
Bonduelle said in an earlier statement that its routine safety testing of greens in the field has not shown the presence of this pathogen. “We test all of our leafy greens (including romaine) in the fields prior to harvest. During this time frame, we did not have any positive test results for E. coli O157:H7. We are working as quickly as possible to identify the possible root cause to reduce potential impacts to consumers.”
Because the product is “significantly” past its “Best By” date, the company says that it is not recalling the Caesar salad and that products currently on store shelves are not affected.
“This outbreak is another reminder that the leafy green industry needs to do a better job of protecting consumers from bacterial contamination,” says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports.
“In general, people who are most likely to be seriously affected by foodborne illness—older adults, infants and young children, anyone with a compromised immune system, and pregnant women—should carefully consider whether to eat raw leafy greens, including lettuce, during an outbreak like this,” he says. “The safest thing is to stick with greens you can cook.”