So on Friday, the FDA announced that they figured out the source of the e. coli outbreak last November (not the bagged spinach incident, but the lettuce). Seventy-one people were ill in NY, NJ, DE, and PA Taco Bells; eighty-one in MN and IA from Taco John’s. And all of it was finally traced back to the Salinas Valley, like the spinach from earlier in 2006, like nine of the twenty such incidents in the past decade. Basically, the problem is that there’s cattle in the Salinas Valley, and the e.coli bacteria in their droppings end up in the streams and on the lettuce and spinach next door. Short of banning cattle from the valley, it’s not clear what can be done to definitely erase the risk. The current suggestion is a voluntary labeling program that would allow growers to receive some kind of certification if they meet some sort of qualifications that have yet to be determined, all very vague and meaningless so far.

Meanwhile, it took two months to trace some contaminated lettuce through the maze of fast food franchises, produce distributors, and farms to find the field where it came from. In the meantime, raise your hand if you ate some lettuce. Good, good. Now, raise your hand if you know where that lettuce was grown. Hmm, not as many hands. Apparently by now, we’re into the season where lettuce comes from Arizona rather than California, so we’re only removing water from the Colorado River in violation of our treaty with Mexico, but probably not getting cow pies mixed up in our salads. We can only hope.