(Sept. 21) Even before the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach, Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Monterey, Calif., had set in motion a quality-control program for its romaine lettuce, which represents 3% of its raw products.

This evolved into a $2.5 million investment in a Global Positioning System and radio frequency identification traceback program. By February, the company initiated steps to take the program nationwide.

Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables, said Sept. 18 the GPS/RFID technology is not in use in Colorado or Ohio.

“We ended up having a combination of two traceback systems because the RFID program for obvious reasons was rolled out in California, but (the Hearts Delight mix) had romaine from Colorado and butter lettuce from Ohio, so we had to do those tracebacks using the old-fashioned manual method,” he said. “We have other samples that were still in our own hands from the same run, and we’re in the process of segregating those, and we’ll be testing the individual components.”

Schwartz said that after being notified, the company knew within minutes where the batch was distributed.

“Late Sunday (Sept. 16) night we got a call that it was going to end up confirming positive so we expanded (the recall) to the U.S. (on Sept. 17) because when we looked at the whole batch another 755 cartons came up that were distributed in the Northeast,” Schwartz said. “So, we just pulled that batch, too. There were 843 total cases, or 5,058 bags.”

It was sold in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces in Canada, as well as in Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and most likely some neighboring states, according to Dole.