Local Farms Offer Safe Alternative Amid Romaine E. Coli Concerns - NECN


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Local Farms Offer Safe Alternative Amid Romaine E. Coli Concerns



    Protecting Crops From E. Coli Outbreak

    Health officials are reporting at least one case of E. Coli in connection to romaine lettuce in Massachusetts.

    (Published Thursday, May 3, 2018)

    There's nothing like a fresh salad, especially with warm, summer-like weather, but you might want to think twice before tossing romaine lettuce in.

    The E. coli outbreak affecting romaine led to a death in California, and two E. coli cases have now been confirmed in Massachusetts.

    At Hearth Pizzeria in Needham, lettuce is a staple. People being urged to stay away from chopped romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona, has restaurant owners concerned.

    "We have young families that come into the restaurant all the time, and its very important for them and us to be safe," said Ivan Millan-Pulecio, the executive chef at Hearth.

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    Lucky for that restaurant, one of its big providers of lettuce in the summer is local — Volante Farms in Needham.

    "When you hear 'romaine lettuce,' 'E. coli,' most people aren't going to dig any deeper. They are just going to stop eating romaine lettuce, which I totally understand," said Dave Volante, owner of Volante Farms.

    Even though Volante has seen no signs of E. coli on their romaine, they saw sales drop.

    "We pulled romaine from the shelves for a couple days to make sure everything was processed, and they found the location and the source, but also because when they see that on the news, they don't want to buy romaine, anyway," said Volante.

    Volante is a smaller farm, with just 30 acres and 14 people picking lettuce. They say that's a plus when it comes to contamination, compared to factory farms like the ones at the center of the outbreak.

    "That's the beauty of small farms. We can track that food — we have clean water — the risk of contamination so much smaller on a small farm," said Volante.

    Health officials say romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, should be avoided. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health says you can't always tell where your lettuce is from on the packaging, so if you're unsure, it's better to stay away from it altogether.

    "Washing your greens is always a good idea, and it does reduce the burden of contamination, but it doesn't eliminate it," said Dr. Larry Madoff from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "We know now that sometimes, the lettuce can actually grow around the bacteria and it can be impossible to remove it by washing."

    Another good option is to "shop local."

    "Know your farmer," said Volante. "I know chopped romaine is super popular right now because you can pour it out, put dressing on and you're done, but there's nothing like a fresh cut of a head of lettuce out of a field in a New England."

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