Grocery shopper

A shopper looks over the produce section in a supermarket in South Burlington, Vermont, in April 2017. Following a recent E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce, U.S. growers agreed to label the origin and harvest date of their lettuce. Photo by Robert Nickelsberg, courtesy Getty Images

This story by Mark Barna, assistant editor of The Nation’s Health, appears in the February/March 2019 issue of the newspaper.

For several months last year, a dangerous bacteria and a popular leafy green were involved in a deadly dance. Two major outbreaks of food poisoning involving E. coli and romaine lettuce — in spring and in fall — kept U.S. public health officials busy.

Following the spring illnesses, a task force of federal and state agencies and leafy green growers was formed to examine industry best practices. By fall, the U.S. health agencies had become quicker at tracing tainted greens to their general provenance, enabling health officials to inform consumers which batches to avoid, said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumer Reports.

But Halloran and other public health advocates also say more work needs to be done. Sandra Eskin, JD, director of food safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said that without changes, consumers should expect future E. coli contamination.

“It’s critical to learn from the outbreaks and change policies and practices to prevent the same problems from happening again,” Eskin told The Nation’s Health.

To continue reading this story from the February/March 2019 issue of The Nation’s Health, visit the newspaper online.