The CDC's latest recall is yet another reminder of how broken the food production system is.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning Americans to stay far away from romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, California, or if the origin of the lettuce is unknown. There has been another outbreak of E.coli, known as O157:H7. It is a powerful strain that has sickened 40 people in 16 states so far, causing bloody diarrhea and stomach cramps, and 28 people are in hospital.
The bacteria could be found in romaine lettuce heads, hearts, pre-washed lettuce, and pre-packaged salad mixes, including Caesar salad mix, spring mix, and baby romaine. If you have any of these in your possession, the CDC wants you to throw it away immediately in a sealed bag to prevent further contamination and disinfect your refrigerator. (Step-by-step directions available here.)Does it sound familiar? That's because we've heard it before. Last Thanksgiving another E.coli outbreak infected 43 people in 12 states. And that followed two other major outbreaks in 2018, including several deaths, that led the FDA to "more closely monitor produce from the California-Arizona winter growing regions." Even this year's romaine announcement doesn't come out of the blue. The LA Times reported:
"The latest recall follows a belated announcement last month that 23 people in 12 states were sickened by fecal bacteria traced to romaine lettuce between July and early September."
The culprit is believed to be fecal-contaminated water used to irrigate lettuce fields; meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to fight against tighter water quality standards. This is insane! You'd think that in 2019 we'd know how to feed people without getting ill, and yet we continually fail to do so. There is something seriously wrong with a food production industry that sickens eaters so seriously and on such a regular basis.
But consumers should also stop for a moment to ask why they're even eating lettuce that's imported from far away. It's a spring/summer food that is 95-97 percent water and barely more nutritious. I liked the analogy of California lettuce being almost like a bottle of refrigerated California water – something that the rest of the country hopefully wouldn't want to drink, especially in light of recent droughts. And yet, we munch its lettuce with enthusiasm.
I suggest eating all the lettuce you want when it's grown near you at peak season, but then switch to seasonal vegetables for the rest of the year. Better alternatives – from both a public health and nutrition standpoint – include hardy fall greens, such as kale, cabbage, collards, radishes, kohlrabi, fennel, rapini, broccoli, and more. These could add some fresh crunch to any Thanksgiving table, so that you'll hardly even miss the romaine.