Romaine Calm: Responding to Food Recalls

It seems as though every week we are learning about a new food recall. Most recently, we were alerted to an E. coli contamination in romaine lettuce and salmonella in ground beef. Due to these recalls, TONS of romaine lettuce and ground beef will be tossed in the trash. Most recently, it was reported that more than 12 MILLION pounds of ground beef are being recalled. So, what can we as consumers do to ensure we are eating food that won’t make us sick, without contributing to our already astounding food waste problem and continuing to support farmers?

The increasing use of technology can greatly improve how we handle food recalls. In October, I attended a conference where the then Vice President of Food Safety at Walmart, Frank Yiannis, now Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response at the Food and Drug Administration, spoke about how Walmart is working with IBM to implement blockchain technology to track the source of food. This was fascinating to me as he described the process that usually takes days and often weeks to determine the source of recalled food, now only took seconds or minutes. This is not only a win for consumers but also for farmers and stores like Walmart. In the recent romaine recall, consumers were told to throw away ALL romaine lettuce and to not purchase or consume it. Shortly after that, we then learned that the contaminated lettuce was from certain areas in California. If we would have had this information sooner, we could have avoided throwing away tons of perfectly good produce!

As consumers, we also have the buying power to choose where we purchase our food, including produce and meats like ground beef. If we are purchasing directly from local farmers, we have more confidence in knowing where the food was grown, their growing practices, and whether it is safe. We also need to be more mindful in sharing information about food recalls on social media. Often, I will see an article shared about a food recall that isn’t recent. Spreading this misinformation is harmful to both producers and consumers.

Food recalls happen, but hopefully with the use of technology, we can continue to more quickly and effectively identify the region or area of contaminated food. By purchasing locally, directly from the farmers, we can also be more confident in knowing their growing practices and whether the food we purchased is part of a food recall.