Listeria Outbreak: Farmer Profit Takes Hit Following Lettuce Recall

Linked to cantaloupe and romaine lettuce, the recent listeria outbreaks have killed 18 people and taken a toll on America’s fruit and vegetable farmers.

The media hype surrounding the decade’s biggest outbreak of foodborne illness began with Rocky Ford cantaloupes, grown by Jensen Farms in Grenada, Colo.

A second case of listeria contamination was found in chopped romaine lettuce from True Leaf Farms of Salinas, Calif. Although only 90 cartons of the lettuce went to stores, the farm had to recall all 2,500 cartons, which went to cafeterias and restaurants as well.

“Any time there is a contaminated food product, we are concerned and take steps so that it's removed from shelves as quickly as possible and to notify consumers,” said Ken August, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, CBS News wrote.

So what does this mean for Jensen Farms and True Leaf?

Depending on location, weather and type of crops, farmers may have to rely on one promising crop to get them through the entire year.

Earth crops like beets and strawberries produce multiple times a year, while vine crops, like grapes and squash, only offer one crop a year.

Cantaloupes take 75 to 90 days to mature, while romaine lettuce takes two to three months to grow.

Grenada experiences cold, snowy winters, meaning that the cantaloupe recall could result in a huge loss of profit.

Romaine lettuce at True Leaf Farms in Salinas will fair far better with the moist climate and ample sunshine.

“We have to continue [eating fruits and vegetables], and remember that [the outbreaks] are very unusual events," Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee, told the Los Angeles Times.

Critics argued that websites such as “Stop Food Illness” and the national media have sensationalized the outbreak to attract viewers, when in reality it has only proved fatal to those who are severely ill or elderly.

“[Listeria] generally kills elderly people who don’t have strong immune systems,” cited the Daily Mail.

The listeria outbreaks were caused by listeria monocytogenes, bacteria usually produced by animals but can be found in water and soil as well.

The contaminated lettuce has affected 19 states, including Alaska and Oregon.

The recall is currently in progress. A separate Thornton’s salad recall was announced by the FDA, the Food Safety and Inspection Service and Greencore USA, Inc. on Oct. 1, after salmonella was detected in the grape tomatoes used in the products. There have also been no illnesses reported in connection with the Thornton’s salad recall. That recall affects 57 pounds of Thornton’s 6 oz. Garden Salads and 5.6 oz. Chef Salads sold in black bowls with clear lids. The salads were sold in Chicago; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Evansville, Ind.; Lexington, Ky.; and Nashville, Tenn.