Jim Prevor has an intriguing story in one of his latest Perishable Pundits, updated here and here, that frankly has me wondering.  According to Jim, Freshway Foods discovered E.Coil 0145 in some romaine and, using tracking numbers, was able to trace it to a specific lot supplied by a grower in Yuma, Arizona.  It then issued a recall limited to that specific lot. 

But the FDA decided to be more cautious and to advise Freshways to recall all the romaine from Yuma, not just the identified lot.  And the buyers of the product decided to pull anything they had on their shelves from Freshways, whether it was from Arizona,  and whether, apparently, it was romaine or not. 

This raises a number of questions and I am not going to purport to answer them.  Rather, I’d really like to solicit comments from our very knowledgeable and resourceful readership.  This is the age of Web 2.0 and beyond.  We’d love to hear from you.

  • Is the implication of Jim’s article right, that spending money on good tracing systems may be futile because consumers and regulators will never trust the system?
  • What kind of public education might work to improve the acceptance of traceability? 
  • As a legal matter, it’s unlikely that the buyer of the non-recalled products has any recourse against the seller; in the real world, however, is the seller likely to make good in order to assure future sales? 
  • Ken recently wrote about a similar insurance issue; is there any kind of insurance for something taken off the shelves because of an abundance of caution when the supplier says only to recall specific items?
  • In his updates, Jim suggests that the real issue is that perhaps we are providing more traceability than the market demands and others suggest that the issue is that upon discovery of an outbreak, the FDA doesn’t either adequately communicate the perceived cause of the outbreak or ever issue an "all clear" after it is over.  Is either step either (a) practical when things are moving in real time, or (b) really the FDA’s responsiblity or even power under current laws and regulations? 

In case you should come across some romaine tainted with E Coli 0145, the answer is to heat it, not wash it.  Salon.com has a recipe.