Local growers frustrated over romaine lettuce recall

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Local growers impacted by romaine lettuce recall, say decision was irresponsible
Local growers impacted by romaine lettuce recall, say decision was irresponsible

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Just hours after the CDC urged consumers to throw away any and all romaine lettuce products due to E. Coli contamination, local leaf growers are calling that decision "irresponsible".

Romaine lettuce has been stripped from nearly every store shelf and restaurant in America after 32 people were sickened, including nine in Los Angeles County.

The origin of the outbreak is unknown, which farmers say caused panic among consumers and a major hit to growers.

The CEO of Baloian Farms is criticizing the government's handling of the situation.

Inside the cold storage of Baloian Farms sits two thousand cartons of unsold lettuce.

CEO Tim Baloian fears the romaine could stack higher.

"It's a shame, it's perfectly good food that's going to waste," he told Action News.

Farmers say the broad warning contributed to widespread hysteria.

They want to know why it's taking the government so long to pinpoint a specific grower or distributor.

They say the whole industry is suffering.

The CDC can't seem to pinpoint where the contamination came from.

Employees here can't understand why. They say every box of produce has a bar code relaying all that information.

"Normally when you have a thing that makes people sick, you don't put on a nationwide alert to throw away every little bit of romaine, to bleach your shelves, to do everything. I think it was a knee-jerk reaction," said Food Safety Coordinator Bridget Van Beek.

CDC officials says they sent the alert with so much urgency because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

32 people have been hospitalized in 11 states.

The outbreak began in October.

It's a big disruption in our business, it creates a lot a lot of uncertainty with our customers which isn't necessary. I am confident our romaine is safe," Baloian said.

Baloian Farms says it prides itself on food safety.

Yet more than 50 percent of their customers canceled their orders on Tuesday.

Growers say the longer the more the lack of clarity, the harder the hit they will take.

"The CDC isn't going to end up paying for this. All of the individual growers, all of the little farmers, all of the processors are going to take huge losses over this," said Van Beek.

Growers say the best case scenario is that there will be more answers from the CDC in the morning.

Otherwise, picking operations will continue to be placed on hold.