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Dear Dietitian – foodborne illnesses

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Readers,

A few months ago, I wrote about the 2018 Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) outbreaks related to Romaine lettuce. The contaminated lettuce was eventually traced to farms in California and Arizona. Due to these outbreaks, 272 people became ill, 121 were hospitalized, and 5 people died.  Recently, there have been voluntary recalls for possible E. Coli contamination, but this time with cauliflower, red leaf lettuce, and green leaf lettuce. None of the recalled produce tested positive for E. Coli.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly half of foodborne illnesses come from produce. Foodborne illness, such as E. Coli contamination, is often spread when someone comes into physical contact with the bacteria, often through feces, does not wash their hands, then handles food, thereby contaminating it.  It is also spread when bacteria-infested feces makes its way into the water systems used to irrigate these crops.  

We live in a First World country with the best technology available, and no one should die from foodborne illness. What is being done to prevent E. Coli and other bacterial contamination of food? Some say there is an inherent risk with eating raw fruits and vegetables because there is no cooking in the preparation process to kill the bacteria.  While that may be partially true, I believe “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to require mandatory testing of the water used to irrigate these crops.  If contamination is found in the water, the food will not make it to market. The date for compliance of this regulation was originally set for 2018; unfortunately, it has been pushed back to 2022-2024.

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Another process is underway that would make tracking a contaminated food much easier.  

This process is known as digitalization, which would allow professionals to trace food through the supply chain. For example, someone buys lettuce at their usual grocery store and becomes sick after eating it. That person contacts the store, who can then scan the code (similar to UPC code) of that particular shipment of lettuce.  The grocer can then identify the supplier of the food, as well as the grower.  Digitalization will get tainted food off the shelves much sooner, but at this time it is not required.

It is imperative that the American public be provided with a safe food supply.  No one should ever lose a loved one to foodborne illness. You may contact your US senator, congress person, or the FDA concerning these matters.  The FDA may be reached at or call 1-888-463-6332. I plan to.


Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian with over fifteen years of experience. Have a question?  Email Leanne at