Tag Archives: lettuce

Of Spinach, Lettuce, Water, E.Coli and Probable Cause?

From CBS News:

A popular brand of lettuce grown in California’s Salinas Valley, the region at the center of a nationwide spinach scare, has been recalled over concerns about E. coli contamination.

The lettuce does not appear to have caused any illnesses, according to the Salinas-based Nunes Co. Inc.

Executives ordered the recall Sunday after learning that irrigation water may have been contaminated with E. coli, Tom Nunes said.

And if you are to believe retired soil scientist Frank Pecarich over at California Progress Report, much of it might be related to the fact that Monterey County (the epicenter of the E.Coli outbreak) has been irrigating 12,000 acres of edible food crops with “tertiary treated sewage effluent water” since at least 1998. This project underwhich this process was introduced was called the “Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project” As the Monterey County website admits “The use of highly treated wastewater to irrigate landscaping has been practiced for years, yet for food crops, it is relatively new.” So new, in fact, that it’s only one of two irrigation systems in the world where sewage water is treated and then used for irrigation purposes at produce farms.

As Mr. Pecarich discovered, if one were to wonder what the USDA has learned about this sort of process, one need not look further than their 2005 Report on Groundwater Recharge and Wastewater Irrigation to Protect Crops and Groundwater, item 5:

Microbiological work in the earlier projects included a laboratory study to assess the survival and re-growth potential of bacteria present in tertiary-treated effluent as it passed through a model distribution system. The results demonstrated that population numbers of indicator bacterial organisms increased by three to four orders of magnitude over the 11-day length of the experiment. This research established that although the reclaimed water met EPA standards for irrigation at the treatment plant, there is great potential for bacterial re-growth during transport that could place the water out of compliance at the point of intended use. This work illustrated the critical need to understand the environmental fate of microorganisms and the potential for bacterial re-growth in reclaimed water used for crop irrigation so that future problems of food and groundwater contamination via wastewater irrigation can be prevented.

Let’s be clear here. I’m not saying that this is a cause. But it should at least be considered when talking about an industry that has produced 21 outbreaks of E.Coli over the past decade.

As the FBI gets involed in the case, it indicates that the government is looking beyond civil liability into the realm of criminal liability, and it’s dreadfully important that every avenue is explored in order to determine what went wrong. My fear, with the FBI involvement, is that they’re more interested in finding a scapegoat than they are the root cause.

Technorati Tags: Lettuce, E.Coli

We get Letters v. 24: Lettuce in a bag

This arrived in my inbox the other morning:

Hi Kate

I have been reading your column for about 2 months and LOVE it. I am learning a ton of really great things. I have been looking on the internet for an answer to the following question – What is it that they do to lettuce before they package it in those bags? You know what I am talking about? The lettuce almost has a scritchy feel to it when I chew it? I am getting to the point that I can hardly stand it.

Thanks in advance . . . . .

Mb in Portland OR

Thanks Mb!

Ah yes, that bastion of “convenience” – prepackaged bagged lettuce. The idea behind bagged lettuce was to keep lettuce longer, as well as to remove that tedious chore of…what was it called? Oh yeah, using a knife to chop the leaves.

But is there a difference between bagged lettuce and the regular heads of lettuce?

A lot of it has to do with how the bagged lettuce is processed. And lo and behold, I found this bit of information from Arizona:

Bulk harvesting of lettuce has become more popular in recent years, because of the popularity of prepackage salads. Specific fields may be grown for bulk harvesting, or in many cases, bulk harvesters will follow the wrapping machines, harvesting heads not suited for field packaging. Bulk harvesters consist of large crews of people who cut heads and place them in large cardboard or plastic bins. Bins of high quality bulked lettuce may be slated for the fast food restaurant industry. However, most are transported to salad plants where they are sorted, washed with a dilute chlorine solution or fumigated with ozone, and then chopped for prepackaged or ready-made salads in sealed plastic bags. This type of processing is known as “value-added” packaging.

The answer to your question is in the above paragraph. What you’re tasting is probably chlorine.

Now some raw heads of lettuce are also treated with chlorine (it’s used to kill worms that may be on board), but from what I could find in the last hour of research is that it’s use is not as prevalent as it is in your pre-packaged lettuce. The amount of chlorine used is said to be over 20 times the levels of chlorine than a swimming pool, but I could not find any documentation to support that claim.

The solution? Wash your lettuce well and dry it with a salad spinner. Of course this runs contrary to what some professionals would like you to believe.

Quick side note discovery: A recent report in Minnesota compared the bacteria count of various forms of lettuce, from pre-packaged to simple heads.

Anderson found bacteria in all the samples of lettuce, even the bagged kind which said the lettuce was “triple washed” and “ready to eat”.

“We did not find any E-coli, so that’s a good thing,” Anderson said.

The lettuce with the lowest bacteria count was the simple, unprocessed head of leaf lettuce.

I love finding out that kind of thing.

Thanks again Mb, I hope this helps!

Technorati Tags: Food, Lettuce, Bagged Lettuce

We get Letters v. 16 – Lettuce and Caffeine

This one here comes from the comments section

I hope you can help with a question I have….a friend told me that there is a small amount of caffeine that occurs naturally in lettuce and many other fruits and vegetables! Is there any validity behind this statement? Anxiously awaiting answer.



Hi Lana! Thanks for your question.

Your friend has laid a new one on me, as I have never heard that. I did a quick search for nutrional data on Lettuce and have come up with a conclusive answer. There is no caffeine in lettuce. All three major cultivars of lettuce (romaine, iceberg and butter) come up with the big goose egg in the caffeine department.

Ironically, you can find a bit of tryptophan in lettuce. You remember tryptophan, right? It’s the Amino acid that urban legend says is responsible for us feeling so sleepy after eating Turkey. Yes, it is an urban legend.

As far as other fruits? According to Nutrition Data, there doesn’t seem to be any. This makes sense when you understand that for the plant, caffeine may act as a natural pesticide. It paralyzes and kills some of the insects that attempt to feed on the plant. As fruits carry seeds, it would be innefficient for a plant to kill the primary vehicle used to distribute said seeds.

Thanks for the question Lana, I enjoyed researching this one, as I found it things I hadn’t known before.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Lettuce, Caffeine

Soupe De Laitue (Cream of Lettuce Soup)

Soupe De Laitue

Sometimes I find recipes that I had no idea had existed. Recipes with insects in them, recipes that have odd pairing of ingredients…you name it, I’ve probably have been surprised by it.

Which makes this recipe all the more odd to me. I’m sure it’s simply that I am not overly familiar with French cuisine, and, as an American, some of their dishes sound peculiar.

Cream of Lettuce soup for example. I’m fairly sure you will not find this flavor being shilled by the folks at Campbells.

I shouldn’t be all that surprised however. The soup is smooth and velvety. The beef stock gives it a rich undertone, while the lettuce and watercress add their own leafy falvors to the mix. I had this with a hunk of Raw Milk Goat’s cheese, and it was perfect.

  • 4 tbl butter
  • 2 garlic cloves minced fine
  • 2 tbl minced parsley
  • 1 tbl minced fresh tarragon (avoid the dry stuff for this recipe)
  • 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
  • 3/4 Finely-shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 lb finely-chopped watercress
  • 4 cup beef stock
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cup cream
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Heat butter in a large stock pot until melted. Saute garlic, parsley, tarragon, and onion until the onion is transparent. Add the lettuce and watercress, and stir over low heat for 5 minutes. Stir in the beef stock and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Add one ladle full of the lettuce/beef broth and mix well. Repeat this step 2-3 more times. Pour cream into the stock pot and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.Set heat to medium. Bring to a boil and then immediately lower the heat to medium lower, maintaining a low boil. We’re looking to thicken the soup, but not scorch the cream. Boil for 5 minutes and take off heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Serves 6

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

A classic, of this there is no doubt. But there seems to be some question on it’s origin. BUt that’s for another post.

The real question, when it comes to a caesar salad, is “Anchovies or not?” Here’s where the history gets a bit muddled.

As near as I can discern, anchovies were not in the initial recipe, but were added later, with the creators blessing. So, with or without are an acceptable version. Myself? I like anchovies, so this recipe gets da fishes.

However, I did not add croutons, because I don’t like ‘em. If you like them, add about 2 cups worth, but for god’s sake, make them yourself. Don’t be one of those people who have to buy their croutons from the supermarket.

The Egg yolk question: Yes, it’s a raw egg. Use your best judgement if you want to use it or not. If you don’t, add another tablespoon of olive oil.

For the dressing:

  • 4 filets of anchovies
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 egg yolk, room temperature

For the salad:

  • 1 head romaine lettuce
  • 6 filets anchovies, chopped
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese (the good stuff, not the powdered crap)

In a mortar and pestle, or even using a (non-metallic) bowl and spoon, mash the garlic and 4 anchovies together until you get a bit of a paste. Add the capers, salt and pepper and continue your mad paste making ways.

Whisk in the lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and Dijon mustard. Once incorporated, add the oil and vinegar, and also whisk in well. Set dressing aside.

Wash and dry your lettuce leaves. Rip them in shreds and place them in a large glass or wooden salad bowl. If you have croutons, this is where you would be adding them.

Returning to the dressing, add the egg yolk and whisk well. Pour dressing over lettuce leaves and toss. Serve in bowls or on a plate and top with anchovies and cheese.

Serves 2

Lettuce Hints and Tips and Trivia

More info to gnaw on if you like these sort of posts. Personally? I like these sort of posts.

  • - There are five classifications of lettuce, with several varieties beneath in each classification:

    Butterhead Lettuces: Small, round, with loose leafs, these leafs range from pale green on the outside leaves to light yellow green on the inside leaves. Butterhead varieties include Boston and Bibb varieties.

    Crisphead Lettuces: Solid heads of tightly wrapped leaves. Varieties include Iceberg and Batavian. If you have the option, choose the Batavian over the Iceberg. Trust me on this.

    Looseleaf Lettuces: Leaves come from a single stalk rather than wrapped in a head. These leaves are more delicate than Crispheads and Butterheads.

    Celtuce: Chinese Lettuce. Known for it’s thickened soft stem which is perfectly edible, as opposed to the stems of Crispheads.

    Romaine: An elongated head of dark green, narrow, stiff leaves, with distinctive ribs reaching nearly the tip of each leaf.

  • - Purchase Lettuce that is crisp, clean and free of blemishes.
  • - for looseleaf leattuce, purchase lettuce that has unbroken leaves, with no wilting.
  • - Avoid iceberg lettuce that is lack any green coloring or have loose leaves.
  • - Avoid Romaine lettuce that has rust coloring.
  • - Do not soak your lettuce. Run your leaves under cold water and then dry by soaking on paper towels or with a salad spinner.
  • - Crisphead and Romaine varieties of lettuce can be kept in a refrigerator for up to a week after purchase. Other varieties, 3-4 days tops.
  • - Do not store lettuce next to bananas,apples, pears or tomatoes. The ethylene that these fruits give off will brown your lettuce prematurely.
  • - Dry your lettuce before storing.
  • - 1 lb of lettuce leaves equals roughly six cups.
  • - There is no proof that tearing leaves will allow your leaves to brown slower than if you cut them by knife. But hand torn lettuce certainly looks better than chopped lettuce.
  • - The greener leaves of lettuce contains more vitamins and minerals then the paler leaves. More flavor as well.

And now you know more about Lettuce than you ever thought you could.

Shrimp and Black Bean Lettuce Wrap

Shrimp and Black Bean Lettuce Wrap

Perhaps it was a bad idea to choose a Lettuce Wrap as my first lettuce recipe. atfer all, in wraps, Lettuce is more of a delivery system rather than a key flavor factor. But this came out better than I expected and tasted quite good.

The initial recipe I based this recipe off of called for butter lettuce, but butter lettuce is a thin and flimsy leaf. You should pick a firmer lettuce (with decent length) for a better result.

  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup red onions, diced
  • 1 tsp chili pepper
  • 1/2 tsp powder ginger
  • 1 lb shrimp, shelled and cleaned
  • 1 15 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • Lettuce leafs, chilled

Place a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablepsoons of oil, and bring up to heat. Add onions. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onions just start to turn translucent. You’ll want to have a little bit of texture in your onions.

At the same time, you will want to heat another skillet over medium heat, adding the oil, chili pepper and ginger. Once oil is up to temperature, add the shrimp and allow to cook. Saute until the shrimp is cooked.

Add 1/3rd of the black beans to your onions. Mix well, and mash beans with a spatula. Add the remaining beans, scallions and cilantro. Combine with cooked shrimp. Spoon into lettuce leaves and serve.

Serves 4

In one medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add Chili pepper and ginger, and