Tracing Lettuce Contamination

Credit: Adam Cole for NPR

NPR has published an article about the recent lettuce contaminations at Dole Foods and other producers, similar to the recent LA Times article we wrote about this issue on the blog. The author visited Earthbound Farm, a major lettuce producer in the Salinas Valley area, to talk with inspectors about microbe contamination of lettuce products.

Earthbound Farm sells bags of ready-to-eat organic greens by the tens of millions. Six years ago, it was the central figure in a national food safety scare.

It sold some spinach that carried a deadly microbe: E. coli O157:H7. The spinach went all over the country. It made at least 200 people sick. Three people died.

“I was at the center of the investigation and really took it very hard,” says Daniels. “It was just a real tough time to go through, and something that I don’t ever want to go through again.”

But making sure it never happens again is really hard because, despite an intensive investigation, no one knows exactly what caused it to happen the first time. “There was no smoking gun, if you will,” says Daniels.

Investigators found E. coli bacteria that matched the microbes that were making people sick on a ranch that was one of Earthbound’s suppliers. But those bacteria were in animal feces a mile from the spinach field, Daniels says, “with no clear indication of what caused the contamination from a mile away to get into the spinach field itself.” NPR, 19 Apr 2012.

The article goes on to talk about the many ways they are trying to reduce contamination in produce fields. It’s an interesting profile of the measures being taken by companies to prevent further issues.