May 092010

Last Sunday, I posted that I had been very ill for about a week with E. coli food poisoning.  My wife and I had already isolated romaine lettuce as the illness vector at the time of that post.

Four days later, the FDA reported an E. coli outbreak in several states due to tainted romaine lettuce sold by Freshway Foods.  Arkansas, where I live, was not among the list of states where shredded romaine lettuce was being recalled, although the recall was broadened significantly yesterday.  Also, the romaine lettuce that made me sick was not shredded.  It was either organic romaine lettuce from Wal-Mart or part of a six-pack of romaine lettuce obtained from Sam’s Club.

Consequently, it is probable that the scope of E. coli contaminated romaine lettuce is larger than what the FDA is currently reporting.

The predominate symptom that I suffered was significant pain throughout much of my large intestine.  I had a bout of diverticulitis several years ago and the abdominal tenderness was very similar.  However, the pain from the recent food poisoning was spread over a much larger area.

Lettuce becomes contaminated with E. coli bacteria when brought into contact with fecal matter.  This commonly occurs in third world countries like Mexico where human and animal waste is often used as fertilizer.  However, there have been reports of E. coli tainted crops originating in the U.S..  This is commonly believed to be the result of inadequate toilet facilities for migrant fieldworkers.

In any case, I can tell you from personal experience that you don’t want to catch this illness.  I could barely get out of bed for several days and my wife constantly urged me to go to the hospital.  Fortunately, the symptoms eventually abated and I did not have to seek medical treatment.

Is it coming to a time in the United States when we have to treat our food like we live in Cambodia or Somalia, soaking our lettuce in bleach?  The FDA does not appear to be useful as demonstrated by the fact that E. coli food-borne illnesses were virtually unheard of in the U.S. when I was a child.  And don’t forget that I became sick with E. coli in an area of the country still outside the scope of the FDA’s current recall — and I became sick nearly two weeks before the FDA said anything about an E. coli lettuce outbreak.

Also recall the FDA’s recent tomato ban that cost the American tomato industry millions of dollars only for the FDA to later discover that the outbreak was actually due to Salmonella-tainted, Mexican-grown Jalapeno peppers.

The best remedy is to simply not trust the government’s ability or inclination to provide adequate food safety.  Buy locally produced food, or, better yet, raise your own vegetables and farm animals or purchase foods produced by your friends.  With the exception of lettuce and a few other items, we buy a large portion of our fresh food locally or raise our own food.  Lettuce was the exception.  It appears we’ll have to reconsider our lettuce sources now.

Although I did not enjoy being sick, it is good that I became ill rather than our little children where E. coli can be a much graver infection.