The last couple of months have been a wild ride if you're a fan of Romaine lettuce (or eggs for that matter). After concerns around romaine lettuce due to an E. coli outbreak originating from Yuma, Arizona, the CDC finally says that it’s safe to eat the leafy green again.
Although 23 more people have been reported ill from 13 states since the last official count on May 9, the FDA announced that the harvest season has ended in Yuma, and the last shipments of the lettuce grown in that region were harvested on April 16.
On their Twitter account, the CDC wrote, "E. coli update: The last romaine lettuce shipments from the Yuma growing region were harvested on April 16 and are now past their 21-day shelf life. The romaine lettuce being sold and served today is NOT the romaine linked to illnesses."
This update comes weeks after one person died in California from the bacteria, and as of May 15, the total number of persons affected by the strain has been 172 across 32 states. The CDC announced that this was the largest multi-state E. coli outbreak in the U.S. in 12 years.
Throughout the outbreak, some restaurants opted to continue serving romaine, issuing statements to their customers clarifying where their lettuce had originated. However, some others chose to pull the leafy green from their menu altogether until the outbreak was under control. As health scares go it wasn't the worst, or rather the grossest.
On April 13, the FDA reported that more than 206 million eggs were recalled from supermarkets because they were linked to a salmonella outbreak. According to a report from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Rose Acre Farms were forced to issue the recall after officials traced these cases back to the company's facility in North Carolina.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the reason for the recall was that the FDA found "unacceptable rodent activity" at the farm responsible for the eggs that caused the salmonella outbreak.
According to the Washington Post, the egg farm that produced the salmonella-ridden eggs, Rose Acre Farms in North Carolina, had a heavy rodent infestation that it failed to properly address. In the original report cited in the article, the FDA said that it had discovered dozens of live and dead rodents inside Rose Acre Farms' hen houses during an inspection they conducted from March 26 to April 11.
Many rodents were seen "burrowing in and out of manure piles." The FDA investigators also found baby rodents and rodent carcasses inside the hen houses, as well as what appeared to be rodent burrows. This, the FDA reported, was evidence of "unacceptable rodent activity."
The discovery of rodents - as well as several other indications of "unsanitary conditions and poor employee practices" - led the FDA to conclude that Rose Acre Farms was not following federal health and safety guidelines. People on the internet, quite naturally, reacted with disgust and wondered what might be considered an "acceptable" level of rodent activity.
Despite the fact that people on Twitter seem to believe that any level of rodent activity should be considered unacceptable, the FDA does tolerate some level of rodent activity in food processing centers. "There are unavoidable defects when you're dealing with food," says one representative.
They explained that it is economically impractical to process food in a way that is totally free of naturally-occurring defects such as mold, rodent filth, or insect filth.
As the FDA representative explained, that's why the federal agency sets maximum levels of defects in food. These defect levels represent the limits at which the FDA will consider a food product "adulterated" and subject to enforcement. If a food product is found to contain defects that fall below those levels, then it would probably be considered acceptable.
According to the FDA's Defect Levels Handbook, the level of rodent activity is measured by the number of rodent hairs. There is no threshold for hairs found in egg products. The FDA representative did say that a small amount of rodent hair would probably be considered acceptable in most food products - including eggs. If you're still keen for a plate of eggs, be careful how you prepare them.