SAN FRANCISCO - Less than a week after the Food and Drug
Administration lifted its warning on fresh spinach grown in
California's Salinas Valley, a popular brand of lettuce grown there
was recalled Sunday over concerns about E. coli contamination.
The lettuce does not appear to have caused any illnesses, the
president of Salinas-based Nunes Co. Inc. said.
The lettuce scare comes amid other federal warnings that some brands
of spinach, bottled carrot juice and recent shipments of beef could
cause grave health risks — including paralysis, respiratory failure
Executives ordered the recall after learning that irrigation water
may have been contaminated with E. coli, said Tom Nunes Jr.,
president of the company.
So far, company investigators have not found E. coli bacteria in the
lettuce itself, Nunes stressed.
"We're just reacting to a water test only. We know there's generic
E. coli on it, but we're not sure what that means," he said. "We're
being extra careful. This is precautionary. "
The recall covers green leaf lettuce purchased in grocery stores
Oct. 3-6 in Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho
and Montana. It was also sold to distributors in those states who
may have sold it to restaurants or institutions.
The recalled lettuce was packaged as "Green Leaf 24 Count, waxed
carton," and "Green Leaf 18 Count, cellophane sleeve, returnable
carton." Packaging is stamped with lot code 6SL0024.
FDA spokeswoman Julie Zawisza said the agency is aware of the
voluntary recall but had no details.
"As a standard course of action, we would expect the firm to
identify the source of the contamination and take steps to ...
ensure that it doesn't happen again," Zawisza wrote in an e-mail.
It's unlikely that the bacteria in the lettuce fields share the
source of the E. coli found in spinach that has sickened nearly 200
people and has been linked to three deaths nationwide, Nunes said.
Pathogenic Escherichia coli bacteria, or E. coli, can proliferate in
uncooked produce, raw milk, unpasteurized juice, contaminated water
and meat. When consumed, it may cause diarrhea and bloody stools.
Although most healthy adults recover within a week without long-term
side effects, some people may develop a form of kidney failure.
That illness is most likely to occur in young children, senior
citizens and people with compromised immune systems. In extreme
cases, it can lead to kidney damage or death.
The recall at Nunes Co., a family-owned business with more than
20,000 acres of cropland in Arizona and California, comes days after
federal agents searched two Salinas Valley produce companies
connected to the nationwide spinach scare.
Epidemiologists also warned consumers last week to stay away from
some bottled carrot juice after a Florida woman was paralyzed and
three people in Georgia experienced respiratory failure, apparently
due to botulism poisoning.
Also on Friday, an Iowa company announced that it was recalling
5,200 pounds of ground beef suspected of having E. coli. The
government said no illnesses have been reported from consumption of
The outbreaks have sparked demands to create a new federal agency in
charge of food safety. Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary
Rodham Clinton, both New York Democrats, are sponsoring legislation
authored by Sen. Richard Durbin (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill.,
to create the unified Food Safety Agency.
"This recent outbreak must be a wake-up call to get our food safety
house in order, because right now it's in pure disarray," Schumer
said at his Manhattan office. "We need to have one agency take
charge to ensure the next outbreak isn't far worse."
The outbreaks have also devastated the economy of Salinas Valley,
the self-proclaimed "Salad Bowl to the World."
Farmers in the area, about 100 miles south of San Francisco, began
plowing spinach crops under and laying off workers last month, as
government inspectors examined fields and packing houses for the
source of the deadly outbreak.
Nunes said he upgraded safety inspection protocols in wake of the
"There's a high level of urgency in our industry, and we're being
very proactive," Nunes said. "It's obviously based upon recent
events in the produce industry and concern for customers. We just
don't want anything to happen."
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