Iceberg lettuce pulled on salmonella fears, or not

Seventy-one Smith’s stores throughout five Western states were told Thursday afternoon to remove and destroy hundreds of heads of iceberg lettuce after the company received an urgent recall notice due to possible salmonella contamination.

However, by early Friday afternoon the recall had been downgraded from "urgent" to "precautionary and voluntary," according to Smith’s Food and Drug spokeswoman Marsha Gilford.

Lettuce from the central California produce company is not known to have had any salmonella contamination.

Smith’s officials got the original, urgent — so-called Class 1 — recall around 4 p.m. Thursday, Gilford said. Workers at all 71 Smith’s at stores in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and northern Nevada began removing iceberg lettuce from shelves.

Friday, when it was clarified that the actual source of the salmonella was not a Growers Express lettuce field but a nearby one owned by another company, the recall was downgraded to Class 2: voluntary and precautionary.

Salmonella was apparently found in an Arizona field adjacent to the grower’s property.

None of the lettuce in the markets has tested positive for salmonella but the grower alerted retailers of the test results and sought a withdrawal of the product “out of an abundance of caution.”

“There’s no evidence of contamination on any product whatsoever,” Jamie Strachan, CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Growers Express, told The Associated Press on Friday.

Still, The Kroger Co. and its affiliated grocery chain, Smith’s Food and Drug, decided to pull the product from 200 stores in at least seven states, including Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada, Kroger spokesman Keith Dailey said.

Dailey called it a cautionary move prompted by a notice from the grower.

Strachan stressed that none of his company’s product has tested positive for salmonella, and that crops growing in the adjacent field south of Phoenix were destroyed. He would not say who owned the tainted property.

“They’re pulling the lettuce to be on the safe side, but there’s no official recall,” Utah Department of Agriculture and Food spokesman Larry Lewis said.

To notify customers, Smith’s had put up signs in its produce departments, made automated phone calls to customers with Smith’s discount card information and printed out warnings on those people’s receipts, she said.