Lettuce Recalled Due to E. Coli: Another Reason Senate Should Take Up Food Safety Bill
Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal
May 6, 2010
If members of the United States Senate need another reason to bring the food safety bill to the floor, may I recommend tomorrow’s newspapers? Once again, lettuce contaminated with dangerous bacteria, in this case, E. coli O145, is implicated in a multistate outbreak that has hospitalized at least 12 people so far and may be responsible for three cases of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). New York State identified the pathogen during testing of unopened bagged lettuce from Ohio-based Freshway Foods, and the Food and Drug Administration issued a recall of products from the Freshway plant.
While consumers wait for Congress to pass food safety legislation, the plants that process and bag lettuce and the farms that grow it are operating under an industry honor system which clearly failed in this case. The FDA can’t tell us when it last had inspectors in the plant where this lettuce was processed. Congress urgently needs to give the FDA the resources and authority from the farm forward, transforming it from a reactive agency to an agency focused on preventing contamination.
Freshway is conducting this recall on a voluntary basis, because – even with the presence of this serious food safety hazard – FDA lacks the ability to order a recall. Giving the FDA mandatory recall authority is another reason why the Senate should bring S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, to the floor without further delay.
In the meantime, consumers should check FDA’s web site for specific information about this recall. Reports from FDA indicate that the recalled lettuce was intended for food service establishments, including some supermarket salad bars, but not bagged lettuce for retail sale.