Freshway Foods geographically challenged, tries to communicate about E. coli O145 crisis

Freshway Foods has recalled romaine lettuce products sold for food service outlets, wholesale, and in-store retail salad bars and delis after links with over 50 sick people in Ohio, Michigan and New York were established. On May 5, 2010, the New York state Public Health Laboratory, Wadsworth Center, in Albany reported finding E. coli O145 in an unopened bag of Freshway Foods shredded romaine lettuce being recalled.

When the recall press release was issued by Freshway Foods around noon today, it said,

The recalled romaine lettuce products were sold to wholesalers and food service outlets in the following states east of the Mississippi river: Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The recalled romaine products were also sold for distribution to in-store salad bars and delis for Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets, and Marsh stores in the states listed.

Amy pointed out, since when in Kansas east of the Mississippi river? Someone else e-mailed me to say the same thing about Missouri. I called Freshway Foods and asked, why are Kansas and Missouri on the list, since they are west of the Mississippi (see, according to their own map, left, the company stops moving product at the river). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration press release about the outbreak repeated the same geographical nosestretcher. Given the states listed, should Dillons supermarket, in Manhattan (Kansas), owned by Kroger, be dumping their salad bar? The dude said, uh, good point, thanks, someone will get back to you.

That person just called, so at least she called back. Unfortunately, she seemed confused (understandable, given the situation, but that’s why everyone in the food system should be prepared for these sorts of things).

The nice lady said, we distribute a few other products into Missouri and Kansas but not romaine lettuce. … Oh, we do send romaine lettuce to a couple of distributors in Kansas City, Missouri.


FDA said today that multiple lines of evidence have implicated shredded romaine lettuce from one processing facility as a source of infections in a multistate outbreak to which this recall may be related.

To date, 19 confirmed cases of E. coli O145 illnesses have been reported from Michigan, Ohio, and New York. These illnesses include 12 individuals who have been hospitalized, and three with a potentially life threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The evidence includes preliminary results of product traceback investigations that indicate:
• the shredded romaine lettuce consumed by ill persons in three states originated from one processing facility;
• preliminary results of a case-control study in one state that found a statistically significant association between E. coli O145 infection;
• ingestion of lettuce from the same processing facility; and,
• recovery of E. coli O145 from an unopened package of shredded romaine lettuce from the same processing facility that was obtained from a food service entity associated with the outbreak.

On to the harder questions. Did the contamination occur at the plant (unlikely) or in the field, and where was the stuff grown? It should be easy to figure out where the stuff was grown because, as Freshway proclaims on its website,

We can ensure complete product traceability all the way back to the field. We also exceed the minimum standards with over 30 audits per year conducted on our facilities and growers from firms like Cook and Thurber, Primus, as well as many of our customers’ own quality assurance teams.

Food safety starts on the farm. A table of 34 previous outbreaks involving leafy greens like lettuce and spinach is available at: