Health officials are now scaling back on a widespread warning to throw out all romaine lettuce, after researchers linked a recent E. coli outbreak to crops grown only in California.
But the warning has hurt farmers here in Arizona, too.
Last week, Yuma farmer John Boelts tweeted an image of pounds and pounds of dumped lettuce.
Dumping #romaine today that was harvested Wednesday and had no association whatsoever with the current EColi #outbreak. Will the next fields get harvested? Wish we could have at least taken it to the #FoodBank. Almost $10/lb. and 6 months of hard work invested. pic.twitter.com/NWxljNSxB3
— John Boelts (@JohnBoelts) November 23, 2018
“Dumping #romaine today that was harvested Wednesday and had no association whatsoever with the current EColi #outbreak. Will the next fields get harvested? Wish we could have at least taken it to the #FoodBank,” he wrote.
Boelts went on to correct his original tweet to say the crops were worth $.20/lb., and they were dumping them by the 40,000 lb. truckload.
Initial CDC and FDA warnings meant the lettuce had to be dumped, not donated, he said.
“You do what you have to do and it’s a real shame because the outbreak happened with product that shipped before anything was harvested here in Yuma,” explained Paul Brierley of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture.
The outbreak was specifically traced to crops grown in the Central Coastal region of California. Dozens were sickened in twelve different states. None were in Arizona.
The situation is now prompting new labeling practices in the produce industry.
“So much is produced in Yuma, but the labels have the area of the company- which is usually Salinas,” explained Brierley. “So there will be new labeling put on products that will show this was harvested in Yuma and a certain date.”
With the CDC deeming it safe to eat romaine again, as long as it’s not from central California, farmers in Arizona are ready to get their greens back on the shelves.
“Everybody’s really excited that they can get it back in the supply chain and show that we have a clean, healthy product,” said Brierley. “Keep moving forward, that’s all you can do.”