January/February 2020 - 4

THE PROCESS
ZEKE JENNINGS
Two steps forward,
one step back
The romaine lettuce industry experienced
another frustrating year in terms of public
perception in 2019.
Following a pair of E. coli outbreaks linked
Zeke Jennings
Managing Editor
to romaine in 2018, another E. coli outbreak
occurred in 2019 that sickened 138 people. As
a precaution, countless pounds of bagged salads
and bulk romaine were tossed aside.
More damning is the negative stigmatism that
is becoming attached to this leafy green, not
unsimilar to what happened to spinach a decade ago.
The industry, of course, has taken numerous steps to create safer
growing and processing procedures in recent years. Unfortunately,
every pathogen occurrence will be magnified for the foreseeable
future because of past instances.
As far as the most recent outbreak, popular TV show host Dr. Oz,
who has long been a proponent of eating romaine lettuce, featured
the situation on the Dec. 16 episode of his show. Oz's guests included
food journalist Ali Rosen and chef Cara Mangini of Little Eater.
The episode went over some of the pitfalls of growing romaine,
including the theory of its funnel shape allowing for easy entry
for germs. Also, the challenges of processing lettuce for fresh
consumption, which, of course, lacks a kill step.
" Every time lettuce moves, there is a chance for cross
contamination, " Rosen said.
Mangini highlighted steps the industry is taking, including
irrigation water sterilization, 160-plus farm checkpoints and
increased traceability. " They are actively and urgently working
on this, " she said. The feature also included a statement from the
California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).
Ultimately, Oz ended with an idea for an iceberg lettuce Caesar
salad. He chose iceberg because of a ball-shape and ability to peel
away the outer layers as a safer alternative to romaine, although the
hosts did say earlier the romaine shape theory still needed more data.
While romaine growers might cringe at that last part, the
segment was an educational one for members of general public,
who might be growing wary.
Produce is marketed as being healthy - because it is - but
because of that, when folks get sick from it, it's going to be a
bigger news than, say, ground beef. There were actually twice as
many pathogen outbreaks involving meat, fish and dairy as there
were processed produce in the U.S. in 2019, although the number
of people who were sickened by the outbreaks involved produce
was greater than the former.
People want to eat salads. It's just a matter of continuing to
improve the process to assure them it's safe.
Office 616-887-9008
Managing Editor Zeke Jennings, 616-520-2159
zjennings@greatamericanpublish.com
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publisher@produceprocessing.net
Editorial Advisory Board
Adrienne Seiling, American Frozen Food Institute
Bob Swartwout, Direct Advantage
Rudi Groppe, Heinzen Manufacturing International
Lou Cooperhouse, Rutgers Food Innovation Center
Sherrie Rosenblatt, Can Manufacturers Institute
ISSN 2375-3447
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4
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January/February 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of January/February 2020

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