Calif. grower searches for 250 cartons of recalled lettuce scattered across Western states

Monday, October 9th 2006, 5:46 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The company that recalled its lettuce after irrigation water tested positive for E. coli scrambled Monday to locate 250 remaining cartons of the greens, which could be scattered across seven Western states.

On Sunday, Nunes Co. recalled more than 8,500 cartons of green leaf lettuce grown on one farm in the Salinas Valley, the agricultural region at the center of the contaminated-spinach outbreak that killed three people and made 199 others sick.

By Monday morning, all but 250 cartons of the lettuce distributed under the Foxy brand between Oct. 3 and Oct. 6 had been located and were being destroyed, company president Tom Nunes said.

The search continued for the remaining cartons, which Nunes said were believed to be in supermarkets or restaurants in Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

``If we can get it all back, I'll be a happy camper,'' Nunes said, emphasizing that the recall was precautionary since there had been no evidence of E. coli on the lettuce, or any reports of illnesses.

The recall was issued for lettuce sold as ``Green Leaf 24 Count, waxed carton,'' and ``Green Leaf 18 Count, cellophane sleeve, returnable carton,'' and stamped with lot code 6SL0024.

The grower had relied on a backup reservoir to supplement irrigation water drawn from a regularly tested well. Once bacteria were found in the reservoir, Nunes decided not to wait for test results to find out if the lettuce itself was contaminated, or if the E. coli _ a common bacteria _ was of a dangerous strain. Such tests can take at least two days.

``We knew the bad stuff could be in there,'' Nunes said. ``We had a very good chance of stopping it before it hit the shelves.''

The family-owned company grows more than 20,000 acres of vegetables in Arizona and California and has never had problems of this sort, Nunes said.

Last month, a deadly strain of E. coli was found in spinach packaged by Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista.

The dangerous strain can be found in animal and human feces. It can be transmitted to produce through contaminated water, inadequate hygiene on the farm or at the packing plant, and animals wandering into fields.