Local fruit, produce wholesale distributor bouncing back after Romaine lettuce warning

ROANOKE, Va.- – If you're fixing a salad for dinner you might want to check the label. The Food and Drug Administration is asking growers and distributors of romaine lettuce to show when and where the crop was harvested. 

This comes after the agency traced the recent E. coli outbreak to central California. Fred Najjum is the owner of Roanoke Fruit and Produce. The family owned and operated company was greatly impacted after people were warned not to eat romaine lettuce. 

"It was a bit of a struggle there for a few weeks," said Najjum. 

The company supplies lettuce to schools and independent restaurants, selling between 300-500 cases of romaine and iceberg lettuce a week. 

"We stopped selling Romaine for about 10 days to two weeks and once the ban was lifted and we confirmed that our lettuce was from Yuma, we started selling it in the last couple days," said Najjum. 

The outbreak was traced to central California. Federal health officials say Romaine is safe to eat as long as it's not from that area. A Virginia Tech food safety specialist said it can be hard to tell where your lettuce is from.

"That can be really difficult to find out. Sometimes it's listed on packaging. For example, if you're buying a bag of lettuce sometimes it would list the origin on the package but generally most product like that is not labeled," said Virginia Tech consumer food safety specialist Renee Boyer. 

Najjum said they have a food safety program in place. 

"We have a 100% traceability program. We can trace it exactly back to where it came from, when it was harvested. The growers and shippers put stickers on the boxes that allow us to trace the items back."

If in doubt, the consumer should be able to ask the produce manager where the produce originated.