Lettuce Prey

lettuce harvest

As part of my pre-Thanksgiving dinner preparations, I made a big salad for lunch instead of the sandwich or hot dog I usually have. The romaine was still fresh, sweet onion, some left-over cooked beets, a little celery and a carrot from the garden. Some smashed up tortilla chips for croutons and probably a little too much ranch dressing. Some saltines and I was all fixed up.

Of course, the following day was when the CDC report came out about not eating romaine lettuce. I tossed out the rest of it and scrubbed the veggie drawer as directed, then sat back and waited for the salmonella to kick in. The alert wasn’t clear about how long it might take for symptoms to appear, but after another day I figured I had dodged the bullet.

That wasn’t our first brush with death by fresh veggies. We had one with melons a couple of years ago in Colorado. We seem to be hearing about more and more such incidents, but maybe that’s due to better recognition of symptoms and better reporting and and maybe even a weaker legal position for the restaurants or grocery stores.

So, why hasn’t the government done more to prevent these problems? Well, according to Melissa Breyer in the Treehugger Daily News, “In 2011, Obama’s FDA decided to do something about this by creating a new rule requiring growers to, get this, test the water! The new rule was supposed to go into effect in January of 2018. But then … President Donald Trump’s FDA – responding to pressure from the farm industry and Trump’s order to eliminate regulations – shelved the water-testing rules for at least four years.”

Isn’t that just dandy. And of course, Trump recently noted in response to the climate change report that we already had clean water and air, and the climate change stuff is just “fake news, so sad.” This from a guy whose entire outdoor experience is a Trump county club golf course and the only threat is the water hazard. (I’m pretty sure the Mar-A-Lago course bans alligators and water moccasins.)

Breyer notes, “It’s been obvious for years that we have a problem here; amazingly, growers are not required to test irrigation water for things like E. coli. Which means that water contaminated with feces and bacteria can end up nourishing fruits and vegetables … and hello, foodborne illness outbreak.”

When I lived in Alaska, I was told by a neighbor that I should never drink unfiltered surface water. He swore that there were cysts from wolf feces that would stay in your intestines for ten years, then erupt and the result was fatal. (I envisioned an “Alien”-type event, but not through the chest.) Well, half the year in Alaska that wasn’t a problem, since everything was frozen, but I heeded his advice anyway and drank mostly beer and alcohol like everyone else up there.

Some take these outbreaks as a sign that all the hooplah about meat being bad for you and the environment is just that, hooplah. My mother might have said that if you want to eat vegetables, just boil them for a while and they’ll be okay. However, she wasn’t consistent about this, since she actually fried about half the vegetables she served. Could the plague of vegetable illnesses be divine retribution for ignoring our carnivorous heritage?

I suspect not. The government inspects most food and food processing plants precisely to insure that the workplaces are clean, the food is handled and stored properly, and contamination is prevented. (I remember years ago being sent to audit a PCB facility in another state. I spent the prior weekend studying up on the regulations for the manufacture and handling of polychlorinated bi-phenyls. While waiting in the lobby of the plant I studied the intricate diagram on the wall showing how the facility made printed circuit boards (PCB’s). I was unable to sneak out before the manager showed up.)

We joke about what’s in hot dogs and sausage (and Congress), but I’m confident that government requirements for these things (except Congress) will protect my health, so I can eat and enjoy them without concern. I’ll still eat salads, fruit and veggies, so I’ll continue to wash all my fresh fruits and veggies thoroughly before eating, and maybe do a little more boiling and frying (thanks, Mom!).

But I still find it pretty incredible that government regulations do not require testing for fecal material.

“No shit!” should be more than just an expression.

Additional information:

Melissa Breyer, FDA Slashed Obama Rules Intended to Prevent All This Devastating E. coli, November 27, 2018, TreeHuggerDaily News

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