By Maddie Rothfield @MaddyRothfield
The Centers for Disease Control released a Food Safety Alert last Tuesday afternoon. The alert warned consumers not to eat romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not to sell any. The alert came just before Thanksgiving, causing many Americans to change meal plans and throw out their romaine lettuce.
An E. coli outbreak has affected 43 people in 12 states, including one case in Maryland. Along with providing people another reason not to eat salad, the outbreak has caused widespread problems for the agricultural community. Luckily, Maryland’s farming community has not been impacted by the ban.
Charles Schuster, the horticulture consultant of the Montgomery County Office of Agriculture, said that, “We have farmers that grow romaine lettuce, but it’s past season because it’s too cold here right now. The farmers have not been impacted themselves, but of course there is consumer drawback.”
The County has also been taking steps to prevent citizens from consuming romaine lettuce and getting sick. Mary Anderson, the Public Information Officer for Montgomery County Health and Human Services, commented with regard to how they are getting the word out: “We’ve been using social media to send out messages that reinforce the messages that have been coming from the CDC, the FDA, and foodsafety.gov.”
Local restaurants have felt the effects of the outbreak as well, with many not being able to make popular dishes or sell salads. However, the Parkway Deli, located in Silver Spring, said that the ban has not led them to change dishes too drastically. They have substituted green leaf lettuce for romaine, to which customers haven’t seemed to object.
The FDA and CDC have announced that they have narrowed the suspected infected region of lettuce to the northern and central areas of California. FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement released on Monday that the outbreak stemmed from the end-of-season romaine lettuce, harvested toward the end of summer.
If you plan on buying romaine lettuce, the agencies advise consumers to make sure it is not from the infected region. The FDA believes the market has generally been purged of infected lettuce due to the clean break of lettuce supply.
Consumers are urging Gottlieb and the FDA to designate leafy greens as a high-risk food category in response to multiple outbreaks in the past few years. Further, the FDA is being pushed to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act traceability requirements, which were intended to go into effect in 2012. The Act is meant to transform the nation’s food-safety requirements to prevent foodborne illness.
Schuster praised local farmers, saying, “The Food Safety Modernization Act has got the attention of all the farmers in this region, and they are doing a great job of trying to ensure that food is fully safe.”
The leafy greens industry has agreed to create a task force to help ensure the safety of lettuce through labeling and traceability.