Romaine Lettuce Recall Impacting Boulder Valley School Salad Bars; St. Vrain Valley Had Switched from Romaine Earlier This Month
Salad bars at Boulder Valley schools were missing the lettuce on Monday, thanks to the widespread romaine lettuce recall that has created high demand for other varieties.
By Tuesday, the district’s food services department had secured a mix of alternatives from its produce supplier to stock its salad bars.
“It took us almost all day Monday so we would get product this morning at 6 a.m.,” said Food Services Director Ann Cooper. “We had the entire team on this. Everything is ridiculously expensive. It’s insane.”
The Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 20 — when area schools were closed for Thanksgiving break — announced a total recall of romaine lettuce while investigators tried to track the source of a multi-state outbreak of E. coli infections.
Monday, federal health officials said, the outbreak was traced to northern and central California, where the vast majority of the romaine on the market had been grown.
So far, the outbreak has sickened 43 people in 12 states sick, plus 22 people in Canada, according to the FDA.
Because of the recall, Boulder Valley’s elementary school salad bars are stocked this week with a blend of cabbage and iceberg lettuce. Middle school students are getting flat leaf spinach, while high schoolers are seeing arugula.
Generally, the district’s salad bars are stocked with a spring lettuce mix that includes romaine.
Cooper said she wanted baby spinach as an alternative, given iceberg lettuce’s limited nutritional value. But the price for 10 cases of baby spinach was up to $20 a pound.
“We couldn’t afford it,” she said.
In the St. Vrain Valley School District, Director of Nutrition Shelly Allen said the district is struggling to source lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli — though mainly because of the fires in California.
The romaine recall has had less of an impact, she said, because on Nov. 1 the district switched from serving romaine to field greens.
“We were somewhat lucky, but without romaine available, other options like spinach and field greens will be difficult to get,” she said.
She added that the shortages haven’t yet forced the district to change its lunch menus.
In Boulder Valley, Cooper said her produce supplier told her that Boulder Valley was the only one of several hundred districts it works with that was going to serve lettuce this week.
Her Chef Ann Foundation, she added, has given 300 salad bars to school districts in Colorado.
“We know there are thousands of salad bars across the country,” she said. “We know we’re not the only ones dealing with this.”
She said this most recent recall is a symptom of a much larger problem of a global and national food system.
“If it was summer, we could get everything locally,” she said. “It’s because we have a broken, un-localized food system that causes these huge problems. If we had a regional system, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/boundsa