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Can we eat Romaine lettuce yet?

An update on the news

· FSMA,Food Safety,FDA,Education

Did you notice that all of the sudden, all of the E. Coli Romaine lettuce outbreak news is over? I was talking to one of my colleagues yesterday who is part of a recall team at a major retailer and asked if the recall portion was over and they agreed it was at this point.... so the news has stopped talking about it.

But it's not over for everyone. The last I read on the Marler Blog, there were 172 sick and 75 hospitalized, 20 with HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome) and 1 person has passed away (so far). 

What happens to these innocent victims trying to eat healthy foods after the media has stopped talking about the recalls? If they recover, they get a large, expensive stack of bills and medical expenses and time loss from work and potentially permanent health ailments that will continue to cost them money throughout their lives. If they don't survive, their families are stuck with that large list of expenses, along with funeral expenses and the shortened life of a loved one. <But they're just numbers reported by the CDC, right?> As humans, when we see numbers, we tend to disconnect from that type of statistic..... until it happens to someone you love or one of their loved ones.

And what about the Yuma, AZ romaine producers? Their harvests were over most likely and they have stopped production, but the CDC and FDA have not been able to link the strains back to any specific location yet - so do we forever write off that area of romaine producers and force them to close their doors? What do we do as an industry?

None of this is real until it is personal - that's human nature. The CDC puts out these statistics, but we ignore them because they don't affect us personally. But we need to make this personal. Imagine it is your child or your beloved grandparent that is in her 80s. Imagine with me, if you will, because that is the only way to impact change. The food industry has an obligation to correct these types of outbreaks or shut the doors down. Then recognize that you can be a Monday quarterback. Yes, they are annoying, but they also want to see the change, and the solution is no different than the Monday after a game - review, course correct and implement what you learned.

  • Review the footage - Conduct a root-cause analysis and determine how the outbreak happened and adjust to correct the problem. 
  • Course correct - LEARN from what happened and adjust. If you don't adjust your programs, there's a good chance you'll encounter it again. 
  • Implement - once you conduct the root-cause analysis and determine next steps, you have to implement. 

These basic three principles are not a competitive advantage - they are a MORAL obligation as an industry to find the solution together. Unless we want to forever stop eating romaine lettuce (which some of us have done with some food categories already), we have to solve this together. Be a part of that solution RIGHT NOW.

If you are not part of an industry association yet, I highly encourage getting involved in one related to your category of foods. These types of organizations are highly effective on helping you stay in touch with the information and trending corrections. Don't wait on regulations to force you - you need to protect our communities from these types of outbreaks. Don't know which one to join? Find the one that most interests you in this Wikipedia list.

 

*An additional thought after some LinkedIN conversation - these Industry Associations are great to join because as a manufacturing facility, the resource and network is critical to assist you in correcting these types of incidents in your own facility. It's not just a collective, team effort, but it is also YOUR MORAL OBLIGATION to produce safe foods for your customers as well.

If you are not part of an industry association yet, I highly encourage getting involved in one related to your category of foods. These types of organizations are highly effective on helping you stay in touch with the information and trending corrections. Don't wait on regulations to force you - you need to protect our communities from these types of outbreaks. Don't know which one to join? Find the one that most interests you in this Wikipedia list.

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