Jim Prevor is the award-winning food writer, editor and lecturer from Boca Raton, FL, who is the founder and publisher of Produce Business magazine. He is known as the “Perishable Pundit,” and also for being the nation’s number one apologist for the fresh produce industry.

A guest op-ed penned by Prevor was published in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 30 under the headline “Lettuce Try Not to Panic.” The “Perishable Pundit” depicted the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as over-reacting by advising consumers not to eat romaine lettuce from the Northern and Central California growing regions or if they do not know where it was grown.

And what prompted CDC to issue such advice to consumers? Prevor kept the answer to that question away from WSJ readers. 

Let me tell you.  

Since this time last year, there have been three outbreaks involving romaine lettuce with 350 confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7. Seven deaths, 31 kidney failures, and 162 hospitalizations are linked to these romaine outbreaks.

Three back-to-back deadly events where neither your government nor Prevor’s produce industry has a clue as to what the hell is really going on. Until they get a clue, major consumer groups recommend none of us eat romaine lettuce. The federal government came around that approach until scaling it back to the two California growing regions.

Prevor, however, shared numbers from only the latest outbreak, and then went down the statistical rabbit holes to show us how silly we all our to worry about the odds that romaine will make any one person sick. He asks whether we want romaine “grown in a high tech safe room and sold for $50 a head?”

He even does some victim shaming by suggesting that anyone with a weakened immune system should not be eating fresh produce in the first place.

And with his other whining and complaining about government action, he had nothing to offer WSJ readers about a solution from his industry. The Food and Drug Administration is calling for labels to identify the source of romaine lettuce. It might help to know where it came from next time.

The FDA, on its own or with a push from Congress, is going to demand the Food Safety Modernization Act water rules be enforced.  Irrigation water must be safe. HACCPs for fresh fruits and vegetables must be adopted. And, something must be done about CAFOs and dairies being too close to growing areas.

And finally, Mr. Pundit, foodborne illness outbreaks are confirmed by laboratory testing, not statistical exercises by epidemiologists. Those are among the investigatory tools used after an outbreak occurs.

Jim Prevor wants you to believe that finding romaine lettuce contaminated by E. coli O157:H7 is less likely than getting struck by lightning. But a better way of looking at it might be if airplanes from the same commuter airline crashed three times in a year, would you be lining up to buy ticket?

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