How many thousands of pounds of “perfectly good” romaine lettuce have been tossed in the past ten days? 

As recent media coverage details, Americans waste plenty of food without factoring in food safety scares.

In a study published in the Plos online journal and called “Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability”, authors found that U.S. consumers wasted nearly one pound of food per person per day from 2007-14.  Fruits and vegetables and mixed fruit and vegetable dishes accounted for 39% of food waste, followed by dairy (17%), meat and mixed meat dishes (14%), and grains and grain mixed dishes (12%).

Giving its latest update on the E. coli outbreak linked to Yuma-grown romaine lettuce, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 20 advised consumers this way:

“Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you’re uncertain about where it was grown. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.”

That’s prudent advice, considering the serious health risks if a consumer eats tainted romaine lettuce. 
The answer to the question of how much “good” romaine lettuce was and is being thrown away is unknowable, of course, but it can only pad the stats of food waste in the U.S.

This morning, the fastest rising search terms relating to “romaine” this morning on Google Trends over the past seven days in the U.S. was #1: “ecoli virus symptoms.”

Highlights of the list were:

#4 “when can i eat romaine lettuce again”;
#5 “romaine recall 2018 brands”;
# 7 “cdc warning on romaine lettuce”;
#10 “is organic romaine lettuce safe to eat”;
#12 “what brands of romaine lettuce are being recalled”;
#13 “is romaine lettuce still recalled”;
#18 “can we eat romaine lettuce now”; 
#20  “is all romaine lettuce contaminated”; and
#21 “i ate romaine lettuce.”

In addition to the above search terms, there was a smattering of consumer searches of lettuce brands asking, for example,  “Is (insert name here) safe to eat.”

I was talking to a couple of friends over the weekend and one of them was incredulous that the government doesn’t know what farm the romaine lettuce came from. Certainly, as the Google Trends reflects, folks want to know.

All should want the FDA to get it right if they implicate a brand, but how long will it take? And how many pounds of romaine will be wasted - and long-term demand diminished - in the meantime?