When news of an e-coli outbreak among romaine lettuce first emerged in the United States in October last year, it might have seemed like a relatively routine and easy to contain situation.
However, the number of people becoming infected with the bacterium soon soared – not long after a second outbreak was identified. It became something of a national scandal.
All in, 62 people across 16 states became sick as a result of the infection, of which 25 were taken into hospital. The last illness linked to the infection, linked to romaine lettuce from some regions of northern and central California, is reported to have begun on December 4.
A significant period of time has passed since the outbreak died down, but a question mark remains on how quickly the market could recover.
For the ‘Romainers’, who continued to buy lettuce despite the outbreak, some reassurance will of course be required to ensure their long-term loyalty, but more work is required to persuade those who may have decided to ‘leaf’ the product behind.
That work has started in earnest. Growers in the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement have announced that they will soon be sanitising the ‘open source’ water used on their crops, in a move designed to reassure customers that the right precautions are being taken – and that they don’t want a repeat of the outbreak.
The cynic might suggest this is only happening because of two Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports into separate incidents in 2018, which found untreated water from a reservoir and a canal responsible for outbreaks – but the truth is the growers are taking the right action.
The work cannot stop there. Stericycle understands the importance of reassuring the customer and, perhaps more importantly, the retailers that the proper steps are being taken to keep people safe. Done properly, the risk of a repeat occurrence is minimised, and the prospect of the consumer-base returning to previous levels and growing once again should steadily grow.
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