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Other leafy greens in the produce section, including spinach, may be missing from your grocery store soon—here's why.
Shoppers and retailers sprung into action last week when the CDC warned Americans to dispose of romaine lettuce due to another E. coli outbreak (the third one this year). Similar to an outbreak over the summer, a blanket federal ban has been put on romaine lettuce. But one industry expert says that the nature of this ban means that more than just romaine could be at risk for contamination.
Michael Droke is a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney who specializes in agricultural and cooperative law. In his career, he's worked extensively with agriculture titans and food manufacturers. Upon hearing of the CDC's blanket ban last week, Droke says that many retailers may have removed more than just romaine lettuce from shelves—and for good reason.
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"A recall of this magnitude especially during the holiday week will impact not only romaine, but other leafy green vegetables such as spinach," Droke said. "Retailers will be pulling romaine and possibly all other lettuce/leafy greens from their shelves (a process called quarantining) until the source is found."
Droke says that nearly every major grocery chain pulled raw romaine lettuce almost immediately, within an hour of the CDC bulletin. Given the high-profile nature of the case, items containing romaine were also pulled that very same day. You may wonder why would retailers be worried about anything other than romaine—and what exactly is a retail quarantine?
"Retailers often call the process of pulling items off shelves ‘quarantining’ the product," Droke explains. "In some cases, retailers also remove related leafy green products due to perceived customer concerns. Regardless, customers afraid of infection will also stop buying other types of lettuce."
It's also true that E. coli bacteria can spread upon contact in many cases, the CDC reports, so if a grocery chain chose to stack romaine heads in direct contact with other nearby greens, there's a chance they removed those products to err on the safe side.
More on E. coli and how it affects romaine lettuce:
Droke also explained that, in some cases, retailers could be the one to remove all leafy greens out of fear of customer complaints.
"In some cases, retailers also remove related leafy green products due to perceived customer concerns," he said. "Many companies with products containing lettuce added notice or stickers stating that the product ‘does not contain romaine’ in order to retain customers."
This latest romaine outbreak comes amid news that Americans are experiencing more recalls and foodborne illnesses than ever. The CDC has issued 21 food warnings since January, making 2018 a record year for food scares within the last decade. With stats like this, coupled with the chance of cross-contamination, it makes sense that retailers may pull other greens off shelves.
- ¼ cup bacon drippings
- 4 bunches collard greens, tough stems removed
- salt to taste
- 3 cups water (Optional)
Heat bacon drippings in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the greens. Stir-fry, I suppose, since you are stirring and frying, for 1 to 4 minutes (depends on how tough the greens are) or until greens are limp, tender, and have greatly reduced in size. Pork fat is good because it helps cover the bitterness of greens while bringing out their great flavor.
At this point, you have a choice. Either serve them straight from the pan with a sprinkling of salt, or add 3 to 4 cups of water and salt to taste, and boil the greens 1 hour for extra tender, probably-won't-even-have-to-chew greens. If you don't have teeth, clearly you see which way to go here.
The Return of Outbreaks
Just as consumers thought perhaps the 2018 E. coli outbreaks were a distant traumatic memory, romaine-related illnesses returned. In outbreaks starting in October 2019 and continuing into December, 133 people were sickened. This was despite steps taken over the past two years by farmers and the FDA to identify the sources of the outbreaks.
Consumer Reports is actively advocating for improved inspection and farming practices to better protect the lettuce food supply. At CR, we are also surveying Americans about their habits and working to debunk myths, including the perception that “triple washed” packaged lettuce is always safe—when, in fact, the washing process doesn’t remove all harmful bacteria.
“It’s astonishing how frequently the lettuce-consuming public has been exposed to bacteria like E. coli over the years,” says Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer in Seattle who negotiated a settlement for Graham. “I have dozens of clients [over the years] whose lives have been completely upended,” he says. “They’ve needed kidney transplants and had hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses because they chose to eat a presumably healthy food.”
In fact, between 2006 and 2019, romaine and other leafy greens, such as spinach and bags of spring mix, have been involved in at least 46 multistate E. coli outbreaks, according to the CDC. Some research shows that greens cause more cases of food poisoning than any other food, including beef.
The constant drumbeat of romaine-related E. coli outbreaks has made Americans very worried about eating lettuce. In a 2019 nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of 1,003 Americans, 52 percent admitted being concerned about getting sick from leafy greens—more than those who are worried about poisonings from beef, chicken, or eggs. Sales of romaine, which was until recently the most popular lettuce in the U.S., are down in the wake of the 2018 outbreaks, dropping about $98 million to $465 million from their $563 million peak in 2017, according to data from market research firm Nielsen. (Iceberg has regained the No. 1 spot.) Meanwhile, lettuce growers and the FDA have been trying to figure out where—from farm to fork—the potentially deadly bacteria are finding their way into and onto lettuce leaves.
Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at the FDA and the agency’s top food official, told CR: “FDA has been working tirelessly to prevent these [outbreaks]. But we’re going to work harder. It’s a high priority for the agency and a high priority for me personally.”
In the meantime, for those who want to continue to get the health benefits of leafy greens, there are safety guidelines that can help to mitigate the risk. (See “The Safest Ways to Eat Salad.”)
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
One of the earliest spring greens you can forage, chickweed can take over a garden fast. It spreads quickly to form a low growing mat, but it only really thrives in the early spring with cool temperatures. That’s enough though, to choke out young seedlings in the garden. Harvest it young, so it doesn’t take over and enjoy it as a tasty snack right in the garden. Or, bring it inside to make chickweed tincture, a natural antibacterial used externally, or anti-inflammatory and antihistamine used internally.
Chickweed pesto is mild and tasty, and a great way to save a big harvest for later. On the medical side of things, a chickweed salve is great for doctoring gardener’s hands after a long day weeding…
Good Gut Bacteria Love Leafy Greens, Says Study
Scientists have discovered that a certain sugar molecule helps beneficial microbes claim space in our digestive systems.
We&aposve long suspected that leafy greens were good for digestion and overall health, and a new study suggests a reason why: They promote good gut bacteria. At a moment when yogurt, kombucha and other presumably probiotic foods are flying off shelves, researchers have published new evidence that eating greens might have a huge impact on our stomach microbes.
Vegetables like kale and spinach contain a special sugar molecule called sulfoquinovose, which our beneficial gut bacteria seem to love. And it&aposs good for them: When they eat it, they reproduce more effectively and take up real estate that bad bacteria could potentially occupy. Recent findings have linked unhealthy gut bacteria to a remarkable array of ailments, from obesity and diabetes to anxiety and depression, so there&aposs more incentive than ever to start eating more salad
- In water used to wash lettuce
- During processing including slicing and bagging
- In soil or fertiliser when growing
- In irrigation water
The contamination could have happened during factory processing, especially during cleaning, slicing and bagging of the salads, Australian National University epidemiologist Associate Professor Martyn Kirk said.
Salmonella can be contracted orally via consumption of food contaminated with human or animal faeces, according to a Food Standards Australia New Zealand publication.
Many of the 24 Tripod Farmers products recalled from supermarket shelves after dozens fell sick with salmonella poisoning were labelled "washed and ready to eat".
"The onus is on the food industry to ensure that if a ready-to-eat food, such as bagged lettuce, says it can be eaten without washing, it should not contain bacteria such as salmonella," Associate Professor Kirk said.
"If they can't guarantee that, then they should make sure consumers know to wash the products."
Water used to irrigate the lettuce during growing, soil or fertiliser could also have contained infected animals' faeces.
Associate Professor Kirk said it was estimated 72 per cent of salmonella infections in Australia arose from contaminated food.
"It is virtually impossible for consumers to identify what produce is contaminated with salmonella, as it doesn't affect taste or smell," he said.
Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services is investigating the source of contamination.
Bagged salad recalls highlight bacterial risks of prepped produce
Bagged salad is a quick and easy way to get your greens but a series of recalls is highlighting a not-so-appetizing fact -- prepped produce also carries a greater risk of bacterial contamination.
Amid yet another salad recall falling in the midst of holiday season, health experts say there's no need to drop the fresh fruits and veggies from your holiday spread, but there are ways to mitigate the risk of food-borne illness.
The first thing is to understand that pre-washed and chopped produce is not always as clean as it looks, says food safety expert Jennifer Ronholm, an assistant professor in the agricultural and environmental sciences faculties at McGill University
"We know that bagged lettuce is inherently more problematic for contamination than the not-bagged lettuce (or) just buying a head of leaf or iceberg or romaine or whatever," says Ronholm, noting the bagged stuff occasionally includes juices that are a very good medium for bacterial growth.
"When you cut leafy greens up for one of the bagged salads, the bacteria can actually go and enter the wounds of the plant and hide out inside of the leavesΓÇª. These leaves are washed in chlorinated water to surface-decontaminate them, (but) once they're cut you could have bacteria inside the leaves."
Meanwhile, a head of iceberg or romaine gets a single cut at the root, which consumers should trim again when they bring the head home, in addition to shedding the outer leaves, she says.
Several big recalls and warnings in the past few weeks have raised extra concern about leafy greens in particular.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recalled a specific variety of Fresh Express brand Sunflower Crisp Chopped Kit on Dec. 8 after their investigation into an outbreak of food-borne illness found E. coli O157:H7. As of Dec. 11, the Public Health Agency had linked the particularly nasty strain to 24 illnesses, including six people who were hospitalized. One person developed a type of kidney failure.
The agency warned consumers to throw away affected products and sanitize containers used to store it, since this strain of E. coli is especially harmful to pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, young children and older adults.
That recall came on the heels of another on Dec. 3 in which the CFIA recalled a specific variety of President's Choice brand coleslaw after detecting possible salmonella contamination.
Then there is the expansive warning in the United States and Canada to avoid all romaine lettuce grown in or near Salinas, Calif., due to an E. coli outbreak, including salad mixes, whole heads, and romaine in salad wraps.
The CFIA says it requires all romaine imports from California to prove it does not come from the Salinas region.
Despite the scares, food researcher Sylvain Charlebois says such frequent alarm bells show the system is working. He contrasted it to the confusion of a similar romaine lettuce scare a year ago.
"Last year, the holiday season was a complete disaster for leafy greens because we never were able to recall anything," says the Dalhousie University professor, who is director of Dalhousie's agri-food analytics lab.
"We didn't know where the source of the outbreak was until very late."
Food safety investigators have refined detection methods to track contamination, even in cases where a mix of greens might involve multiple farms from various regions, he says.
"This is the new normal," Charlebois added of an increasingly complex network to meet consumer demand for a variety of fresh greens.
"As soon as you have one recalled product you are affecting millions of consumers because distribution channels are so widespread now."
Indeed, a new study finds leafy greens were among the top food items recalled between 2000 and 2017.
Food science professor Lawrence Goodridge of the University of Guelph teamed with researchers from Dalhousie to find that 10,432 products were pulled from store shelves, most of them meat, nuts, cheese, and leafy greens.
Meat and poultry accounted for more than 31 per cent of recalled foods, while nuts and seeds comprised 11 per cent of the recalls. Cheese was nine per cent and leafy greens accounted for eight per cent.
Salmonella and listeria monocytogenes were each responsible for about a quarter of the recalls, while E. coli 0157:H7 accounted for 12.7 per cent.
"One rule of thumb is the more a product is manipulated, the higher the chances of contamination," says Goodridge, of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph.
Even though lettuce does get multiple washes in a chlorinated bath, such rinses don't completely eliminate E. coli or salmonella, which tend to come from fecal contamination, he says, noting animals may run through the field and contaminate irrigation or the actual vegetable.
A heavy rainfall can also send manure from nearby animal facilities into the irrigation system or soil.
Listeria is found everywhere naturally and likes to grow in wet, damp areas, Goodridge says. That includes food processing plants, where it can thrive if equipment is not cleaned properly.
Still, Ronholm says Canada's food supply is very safe and that risk of food-borne illness is very low.
"Realistically it's a tradeoff that the consumer has to make and acknowledge that they're making," she says.
"For my lifestyle, I'm wiling to sacrifice a bit of safety for the convenience of the bagged salad."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2019
Also called rocket, arugula has a palate-awakening pungent, peppery flavor that many rock star chefs exploit. Packed with more nitrates than almost anything else at the grocery store, going all rabbit on the stuff can be good news for the way your muscles function.
A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that higher intakes of dietary nitrate can improve muscular strength and endurance. When you consume nitrates, your body converts them into nitric oxide. That nitric oxide dilates, or opens up, your blood vessels – and that leads to better blood flow to important areas like your muscles. This same dilation effect can help lower blood pressure numbers for better heart health. Arugula also dishes out laudable amounts of beta-carotene and bone-benefiting vitamin K.
How to sneak more in: Arugula is a game-changing addition to pesto. You can also stir it into pasta dishes, add to grilled cheese, use as an exciting base for grain bowls and toss handfuls over pizza after it’s pulled from the oven.
Myth #1: Carrot greens contain alkaloids (which are toxic bitter compounds produced by a plant) and all alkaloids are bad because substances like caffeine and cocaine are alkaloids.
Surprise — all leafy greens (including “good for you” greens like spinach and kale) contain varying levels and types of alkaloids, some higher than others.
Alkaloids are chemical compounds believed to be part of a plant’s defense mechanisms.
Our beloved brassicas and nightshades all contain tropane alkaloids (a class of plants that includes cocaine) and you might be surprised to learn that nicotine is naturally present in cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants.
In fact, eggplants have some of the highest levels of nicotine in the nightshade family — but you needn’t panic, as you’d have to eat over 20 pounds of eggplants in one sitting to ingest the same amount of nicotine found in a cigarette.
If you’ve ever wondered why chocolate always makes you feel so good, that’s because it contains another alkaloid, theobromine, which works as a mild stimulant.
All said, alkaloids are found in many of our foods but not in amounts that are actually effective, and not all alkaloids are even toxic. But if consumed in gross quantities, anything — even water — can become “toxic.”
The key is consuming in moderation. Different bodies handle foods in different ways.
You can juice carrot tops and reap the benefits of all their nutrients. But, it’s probably not a good idea to juice an entire head of those carrot greens in your smoothie (and your tastebuds wouldn’t want you to), just as it’s not a good idea to eat spinach salads every day.
In fact, people who go on green juice diets are often advised to rotate their greens frequently in the rare event their bodies start accumulating the same alkaloids (which could lead to adverse reactions).
This is not to say you should stay away from greens at all just eat a good variety of them so you get lots of different alkaloids in different quantities.
(In case you’re curious, the alkaloids found in carrot tops are pyrrolidine and daucine.)
As for the misconception that bitterness means it’s bad for you — quite the contrary. Carrot tops are indeed bitter, but that is not an indicator of them being good or bad health-wise.
Bitterness is a subjective taste that’s passed down in your genes. (And if bitterness equated to bad, I’d surely miss my collard greens, brussels sprouts, radicchio, and arugula!)
Let’s give this first myth a bust. Moving on…
Walmart Will Track Veggies On The Blockchain After An Epic Lettuce Scare
Health officials, who are looking at how to apply blockchain technology to public health issues, consulted with Walmart on improving food supply traceability.
Posted on September 24, 2018, at 3:01 p.m. ET
After hundreds of people in the US became ill after eating contaminated romaine lettuce earlier this year, Walmart, along with many other food retailers and restaurants, pulled the potentially tainted produce from their shelves after regulators issued a warning. The company says the outbreak could have been stemmed sooner if there were a faster and easier way to trace what people had eaten.
Walmart thinks blockchain technology could be the solution. The big-box company worked for more than a year with IBM and 11 food companies to develop a blockchain-enabled food traceability network. Now, Walmart and its subsidiary, Sam’s Club, will require their leafy greens suppliers to use its blockchain technology to implement real-time, end-to-end traceability back to farms within a year, the company announced today.
The company claims its blockchain technology dramatically improves efficiency. In an early test, Walmart's vice president of food safety, Frank Yiannas, brought in sliced mangoes and asked his team to "stop everything they were doing and trace that product back to its origin on a farm," a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. "It took them nearly seven days, as the methods of tracking today are antiquated — sometimes done with pencil and paper." But using the blockchain, that tracking process can be done in 2.2 seconds.
"Imagine if blockchain would have been able to do what it’s done in our pilots," the spokesperson said regarding the romaine lettuce outbreak.
"We had to throw out all romaine because there was no way to precisely identify which romaine was from Yuma [the region where the contaminated lettuce originated] versus other growing regions. . It not only affected Walmart, but all of retail and even restaurants. All romaine had to go."
Bar codes, a common supply chain management tool, "are not a continuous chain (i.e. distributor, farmer, etc. could use different codes along the way)," the Walmart spokesperson said in an email. And even if "they did use the same barcode, the database would still differ by retailer. We are eliminating duplicity within the supply chain and creating one shared system."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been working with IBM on applying blockchain solutions to other public health issues, such as the opioid crisis, consulted with Walmart on improving traceability to help public health officials investigate foodborne disease outbreaks and find the source of contaminated food.
As the MIT Technology Review explained in an article about the CDC and the health care blockchain, "a complex mishmash of data usage agreements and government privacy rules dictate which members can access information and which ones can modify it. That slows things down. A number of additional, sometimes manual processes are needed to make sure the correct organization or person sent or received the right data, and that it was used correctly. A blockchain can automate these steps."
Walmart said the aim of its new blockchain system is "to help reduce the number of people who fall ill during food incidents, while at the same time reducing losses for retailers and suppliers during a recall." The information about Walmart's leafy greens will not be immediately available to consumers, but "that’s in our roadmap," the spokesperson said.