Calif. Lettuce Recalled Over E. Coli Concerns

By Rachel Konrad
Associated Press
Monday, October 9, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 8 -- Less than a week after the Food and Drug Administration lifted its warning on fresh spinach grown in California's Salinas Valley, a popular brand of lettuce grown there has been recalled over concerns about E. coli contamination.

The lettuce does not appear to have caused any illnesses, the president of Salinas-based Nunes Co. said.

The lettuce scare follows other federal warnings that some brands of spinach, bottled carrot juice and recent shipments of beef could cause grave health risks -- including paralysis, respiratory failure and death.

Executives ordered the recall after learning that irrigation water may have been contaminated with E. coli, said Tom Nunes Jr., president of the company.

So far, company investigators have not found E. coli bacteria in the lettuce itself, Nunes stressed.

"We're just reacting to a water test only. We know there's generic E. coli on it, but we're not sure what that means," he said. "We're being extra careful. This is precautionary."

The recall covers green leaf lettuce purchased in grocery stores Oct. 3-6 in Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It was also sold to distributors in those states who may have sold it to restaurants or institutions.

FDA spokeswoman Julie Zawisza said the agency is aware of the voluntary recall but had no details.

"As a standard course of action, we would expect the firm to identify the source of the contamination and take steps to . . . ensure that it doesn't happen again," Zawisza wrote in an e-mail.

It's unlikely, Nunes said, that the bacteria in the lettuce fields share the source of the E. coli found in spinach that has sickened nearly 200 people and has been linked to three deaths nationwide.

Pathogenic Escherichia coli bacteria, or E. coli, can proliferate in uncooked produce, raw milk, unpasteurized juice, contaminated water and meat. When consumed, it may cause diarrhea and bloody stools.

Although most healthy adults recover within a week without long-term side effects, some people may develop a form of kidney failure.

That illness is most likely to occur in young children, senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems. In extreme cases, it can lead to kidney damage or death.

Epidemiologists also warned consumers last week to avoid some bottled carrot juice after a Florida woman was paralyzed and three people in Georgia experienced respiratory failure, apparently because of botulism poisoning.

Also on Friday, an Iowa company announced that it was recalling 5,200 pounds of ground beef suspected of having E. coli. The government said no illnesses have been reported from consumption of the beef.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company