(Sept. 21) Consumer, media and produce industry attention again have turned to Salinas Valley fields, where two of the three lettuces in bags of recalled Dole Hearts Delight originated — a recall that came days after the first anniversary of an E. coli outbreak traced to Dole-brand spinach.

“This is not good news for the entire (salad) category, not just Dole,” said Jim Gorny, director of the Postharvest Technology Research and Information Center at the University of California-Davis.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency triggered a recall in Canada Sept. 16 after a bag pulled from a Loblaw’s shelf tested positive for the pathogen. Dole expanded the recall to all bags processed from the same lot. More than 5,000 bags were recalled.

As of Sept. 20 there were no reported illnesses in Canada or the U.S. No other Dole products are involved in the recall.

Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food Co. Inc., said he did not have any information on how many bags were sold or remained unaccounted for. Only the implicated lot was pulled from supermarket shelves and the product line remains available to consumers, he said.

Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Monterey, Calif., said the company is continuing to cooperate with U.S. and Canadian officials and the main concern is for consumer safety.

Gorny said it could be around the end of September before it is known if anyone is ill.

“In epidemiology we’re looking in the rearview mirror as the information is fed from state laboratories and collected at (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), where they’re doing the genetic fingerprinting of the O157:H7 that was isolated from the bag of lettuce in Canada,” he said.

Gorny said the latest recall is one more indication that there remains a need for a nationalized food safety standard.

Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer for the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement, said Sept. 18 that the two recent recalls — the first involving spinach from Metz Fresh LLC, Moss Landing, Calif., on Aug. 29 — is not a sign that the system is broken.

“It’s a sign that we have to continue working to do better,” he said. “We never said that we could eliminate all risk from the system. Everything we’re doing is designed to minimize that risk, and that’s why we have the traceback systems in place.”

Product grown or processed by Dole only in California comes under the purview of the marketing agreement, said Joe Pezzini, chairman. The green leaf in the lettuce blend was grown in California, the romaine came from California and Colorado, and the butter lettuce was grown in Ohio, Dole officials said. The lettuce was processed at a Dole plant in Springfield, Ohio.

“We’re watching very closely,” Horsfall said. “From the California piece of it we’ll cooperate and look into it. The marketing agreement’s jurisdiction at this time only covers California product in verifying good agricultural practices.”

California Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, a critic of the marketing agreement, expressed frustration in a Sept. 18 release that a year’s worth of industry progress has failed to create a traceback system that can immediately identify where the contaminated produce originated.

“Dole was on TV in California this spring saying they had a computer chip in each box that would allow them to trace a head of lettuce to a 30-foot by 50-foot space within a field, yet here we are days into a recall impacting industry and consumers in two nations, and we have only narrowed the source down to three states,” Florez said in the release. “There is quite a bit of discrepancy between what consumers are being promised and what is being delivered when it comes to food safety.”

The implicated product, which was sold in 227-gram bags in Canada and half-pound bags in the U.S., bears the UPC code 071430-01038, lot codes A24924A and A24924B, with “best if used by date” of Sept. 19.

It was bagged during the evening shift Sept. 6 and would have most likely been on store shelves by the next day, Schwartz said. That indicates that the product was available to consumers for nearly 10 days.

Schwartz said it is not presently feasible to keep ingredients from different states separated from salad blends.

“When you have a minor ingredient like butter lettuce on the East Coast it’s not always realistic to be able to find it on the West Coast and get it there,” he said.

He said the butter lettuce was purchased from an Ohio grower that the company has worked with for six years. He said the grower had recently undergone an independent food safety audit conducted by EHA Consulting Group Inc., Baltimore.

“They’re (EHA Consulting) meeting with the Canadian lab today (Sept. 18) to try to get some details that we can’t get, like how did they test it, what method did they use,” Schwartz said.

He said the FDA came to the Springfield facility Sept. 17 as it continued to operate and returned Sept. 18 to observe the morning sanitation shift.

Schwartz would not identify the Salinas grower.

“We gave the FDA all the information (Sept. 17), and they asked to let their guys get to the farm and do their thing first before they get inundated with media,” he said.