There have been many reported cases of people becoming ill following eating lettuce and other leafy greens over the years. One of the latest has been a case in the US where Romaine or Cos lettuce is likely to have been the contributing factor in an outbreak of E-Coli infections where more than 96 people fell ill and it is reported by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that there have also been 5 deaths.
It appears that the lettuce may have been watered with contaminated water from a canal and the reports, although the investigation is still on-going, have sited that the lettuce has come from several farms in the one large area. All of the lettuce was harvested around the same time and sold through many different outlets, subsequently ending up in restaurants, cafes, etc far & wide.
The incidence of this happening is not isolated to this one case and the contaminated greens can be any from varieties of lettuce through to spinach, varieties of herbs, and so on.
One of the main things that these vegetables have in common is that, when grown in a field, they grow close to the ground. Another common factor is that they are not peeled, rarely cooked, and are, apart from some occasional trimming and washing, they are ready to eat. Being grown ‘close to or in the ground’ means that they are then able to pick up any and all food poisoning bacteria that may come from the soil.
Growers should test samples of new soil to ensure it is disease free prior to planting if they do not know the history of the planting area or the soil is not from a known reputable source. Water should always be from a known safe and clean source.
In Australia there are strict growing rules for commercial growers of fruit and vegetables and samples of produce are regularly tested.
The plastic packs of many pre-packaged fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets say that they are ready to serve. Some say that they are pre-washed, however consumers should make up their own mind as to whether to wash the produce or not when they remove it from the pack. ‘The writer’ always washes her produce prior to use (& stores it in the fridge), no matter what it says on the pack as washing is the last line of defence. Many herbs and lettuce, some of which are hydroponically grown & others not, also come with dirt attached to the roots. Make sure to always cut the roots off and wash it off (often the roots hold too much dirt for a simple wash to be effective).
Washing your produce in clean tap water is the last line of defence for you and your family before you eat it. Unless you grew it yourself, you have no idea what happened during the growing, harvesting and many hands that it has been passed through on it’s way to get to you. It’s amazing how much simple hygiene can do!