SAN FRANCISCO - Less than a week after U.S. 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.
The lettuce does not appear to have caused any illnesses, the president of
Salinas-based Nunes Co. Inc. said.
A migrant worker tends to a lettuce
field in Salinas, Calif., in this March 31, 2006, photo. Less than a week
after the Food and Drug Administration lifted its warning on fresh spinach
grown in Salinas Valley, a popular brand of lettuce grown there has been
recalled over concerns about E. coli contamination.
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 and death.
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
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 beef.
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 spinach
"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."