98 people in 22 states have been affected by an E. coli outbreak stemming from romaine lettuce, and that number is expected to rise. According to the Washington Post, farms in Yuma, Arizona are being investigated as the source, but lettuce contaminated with the strain was already distributed to retailers and restaurants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising customers to eat lettuce only if they know it’s not from the Yuma area, but it’s often hard for customers to know where grocery store produce comes from because labels aren’t specific.
The Washington Post also said investigators don’t know if the lettuce became contaminated during the growing, harvesting, packaging or distribution stage. Even when something such as a bag of lettuce says it’s a product of the USA, that’s a lot of ground to cover. It’s ultimately up to the company to say where specifically the lettuce was grown.
Anyone who knows me knows that I go nuts for Keene State College’s Local Day, not only because the food is insanely good, but because I’ve come to appreciate knowing exactly where my food is coming from. I never gave it much thought before, but food supply relies mainly on trust–we have to trust a host of farmers, chefs, grocery stores and, more often than not, corporations that might’ve been involved along the way.
We have to buy food under the assumption that everyone who handled it before us has safety as their top priority. T, and the current E. coli outbreak is proof that trust was broken somewhere. Companies have to make a profit somehow, meaning that sometimes the best care isn’t taken. Restaurants are beginning to step up their game in light of the outbreak, telling customers where they get their lettuce from to assure them that it wasn’t grown in Yuma. McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Chick-Fil-A have all stated that their lettuce comes from California, and Chipotle temporarily stopped serving romaine lettuce.Time Magazine said farms such as the EG Richter Family Farm in Puyallup, Washington are also doing their best to assure buyers that their produce is safe. The Richters told Time they use conventional fertilizers over manure (since E. coli is spread mainly through feces, according to the CDC) and irrigate with well water to keep crops safe.
These are all good first steps, but I feel like more can be done to prevent future outbreaks from happening. Shopping local is ideal, since it cuts out a few steps that food supply usually takes, and, since it’s not a big company trying to turn a profit, more care usually goes into the crops that are being sold.
However, sometimes it’s just more convenient to shop at a grocery store, and, depending on the kind of produce you want, it might be your only option. Companies need to start saying where specifically their food is being grown so they can rebuild the trust between them and consumers. It’s incredibly important to know where food you’re eating is coming from instead of just “the USA.”
Izzy Manzo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org