Confusion Over Recall of Romaine Lettuce-Contrast with the U.S Egg Industry


On October 31st the Food and Drug Administration announced that Romaine lettuce was safe to eat following an outbreak of E.coli O157:H7. The outbreak involved 40 cases in sixteen states with product grown in the Salinas Valley of California. On Friday, November 22nd the FDA and CDC specifically implicated Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Bonito and Monterrey Counties in California as involved in the outbreak and advised that lettuce derived from the designated area should be recalled. Consumers were warned not use lettuce including whole heads, hearts and pre-cut packs and salad mixes.

The problem that has emerged relates to identification and specifically the product traceability identifiers on labels affixed to cases and cartons. This has predictably created consumer resistance impacting growers in the Yuma Valley and those outside the designated counties in California that at the present time are not involved in the recall.

The travails of the Leafy Produce Marketing Association and individual growers contrasts with the situation in the egg industry. Apart from comprehensive surveillance of flocks for SE, each carton bears a plant of origin and each packer maintains comprehensive paper or electronic records to initiate trace-forward within an hour. Some plants use Ovotrack™ technology that can follow product from farm to retail delivery using barcoding. Notwithstanding the present situation, consumer confidence could be enhanced by imprinting individual eggs with codes using the available AccuPrinter™ at a cost of 0.5 cents per dozen.