Lettuce is recalled when it is known to be carrying a food-borne disease. Recalls of a product or a vegetable are done when there is a recognized potential for a possible health risk. While there are a number of food-borne diseases common to lettuce, it is most often recalled from public consumption due to the presence of the Escherichia coli O145 bacteria, more commonly known as E. coli. Another common reason for a lettuce recall is the possibility of a salmonella contamination.
Both E. coli and salmonella can be introduced to lettuce by contact with a water source. Contaminated water pooling or sitting close to where the lettuce is grown can cause lettuce to carry these food-borne diseases. If the water that the lettuce is washed or sprayed with has bacteria contained within it, the lettuce will also be contaminated. This contamination will constitute a lettuce recall.
Contamination with E. coli bacteria, a justifiable reason for a lettuce recall, can cause mild symptoms, such as gastrointestinal distress. It can also cause acute symptoms, which can include debilitating abdominal cramps and unrelenting diarrhea, which may be bloody. Most healthy adults can recover from this bacteria infection within approximately a week. Some patients, however, may progress to serious complications, such as kidney damage. These complications are seen in the elderly and in young children.
Salmonella poisoning is evidenced by severe abdominal cramping. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also common with this type of poisoning. While these symptoms commonly can be easily treated, without proper treatment these symptoms can lead to severe dehydration and even death. Salmonella is often referred to as food poisoning. The suspected presence of salmonella will warrant a lettuce recall.
A lettuce recall, also known as a market withdrawal, in the United States does not mean that the lettuce is contaminated; it simply states that there may be the possibility of a food-borne contaminant present. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for all foods, and that means that all produce, including lettuce, must meet the government's strict regulations. The FDA samples lettuce to ensure that before it reaches the hands of consumers it is found to be free of food-borne contaminants. While the FDA is diligent at attempting to forestall outbreaks of food-borne diseases, consumers are still advised to wash all lettuce before eating it. This aids in preventing illness even when there has not been a lettuce recall.