( Photo by The Packer staff )

Where’s the good news?

In the wake of the food safety travails of romaine lettuce in recent weeks — and industry navel-gazing about whether federal health authorities overreacted to the foodborne disease threat — I ask this question: What about the good news?

When the world was awash in stories about retailers pulling romaine from the grocery produce departments and published criticisms of the Trump administration’s purported lax approach to food safety enforcement, where was the consumer press coverage of the study that reported men who eat lots of fruits and vegetables have less memory loss?

To borrow from George H.W. Bush, there are a thousand points of light that shine on fresh produce.

Here is one: According to an online report in Medical News Today, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Mass., found that leafy greens and red and orange vegetables correlated with reduced memory loss. The study followed 27,842 men for 26 years — from an average age of about 50 to their mid- to late 70s. The study period was 1986 to 2012.

The analysis showed that consuming higher amounts of certain foods and drinks — notably leafy greens, red and dark orange vegetables, berry fruits and orange juice — was linked to lower risk of decline in memory and thinking skills.

Specifically, the study said that the men who ate the most vegetables were 34% less likely to report having experienced a reduction in memory function. 

While the authors say cannot prove “cause and effect,” they said the results definitely support the notion of eating “lots” of fruits and veggies to help avoid memory decline.

Eating many servings of leafy greens is good. Eating a corn dog instead of a romaine salad is not a great choice, but I’ll bet some men justified the choice because of food safety worries.

Changing the conversation from the perils of food safety outbreaks to the benefits of fruits and vegetables simply can’t be done in the midst of a crisis.

It doesn’t particularly help to observe, according to one writer’s calculations, that a consumer could eat a salad a day for more than 50,000 years and only be hospitalized for E. coli once.

It is avoiding the outbreaks all together that is the answer.

Tom Grumbly recently wrote an opinion piece for The Hill. In that column he said: “It’s time to inoculate our dinners against food poisoning. And scientists are trying.”

He argues that more research efforts are needed to accomplish that goal. 

What is the answer to create more public faith in the safety of fresh produce, particularly leafy greens? Is it tougher rules on testing irrigation water? Is it added requirements for finished product testing? “Inoculating” leafy greens by irradiation seems drastic, but is that what it will take? Does the industry need a consistent marketing message to consumers?

Perhaps all of those, and more, are needed to change the conversation from food safety worries to the thousand points of light that illuminate the benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption.

Tom Karst is The Packer’s editor. E-mail him at [email protected].