When the government issued a nationwide consumer advisory on all romaine lettuce just days before the biggest food holiday of the year, the operational impact was massive, and the repercussions continue today. Compounding the situation, this was the second consumer advisory to affect Romaine in one year.
At a discussion at Midwinter Executive Conference, Produce Marketing Association(PMA) Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker and I addressed the knowns and unknowns about the Romaine consumer advisory. We know that E. coli O157:H7 contamination can be an internal property of leafy greens, meaning that traditional washing won’t necessarily mitigate the pathogen. We also understand from the agencies that agricultural water is an important focus of the investigation. What’s still unclear in this ongoing investigation is:
- how the water source might be getting contaminated;
- the role animal agricultural methods may have played in this contamination;
- why romaine and not other leafy greens; and
- the overall inconsistencies in the timing of both outbreaks.
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