(Nov. 24) It is too soon to tell the long-term impact of media coverage of the alleged link between some lots of green onions and outbreaks of hepatitis A in various states in the past few months.

The best case scenario is limited regional disruptions in the green onion trade.

Even in that scenario, marketplace responses can reasonably be expected. Consumer anger, institutional fear and industry self-doubt are palatable.

If the green onions are indeed linked to Mexican production, country of origin will be an issue for consumers when they purchase green onions at supermarkets.

Whether that desire is rational or not — after all, origin labeling is about marketing, not food safety — consumers who have heard the Food and Drug Administration link green onions from Mexico to an outbreak of Hepatitis A will want to know the origin of their purchase.

The decision to buy green onions for a family will be colored by knowledge, incomplete though it is.

Caution to the member of Congress, retail executive or produce marketer who would stand in the way of that shopper’s right to know the origin of production.

The FDA has advised that consumers concerned about the possibility of getting Hepatitis A from green onions should cook green onions thoroughly by boiling or sautéing, or use in foods that will be cooked, such as casseroles, to minimize the risk of illness by reducing or eliminating the virus.

The agency also said consumers could check food purchased at restaurants and delicatessens and ask whether menu items contain raw or lightly cooked green onions.

In this volatile environment, a coordinated response to the crisis by the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, the Produce Marketing Association and Western Growers was needed, and the organizations delivered.

In a Nov. 19 communication to the trade and the public, the groups presented a backgrounder on the current status of the investigation into the Hepatitis A outbreak in Pennsylvania.

The backgrounder noted that it is important to distinguish between a foodborne illness outbreak linked to green onions and the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables in general.

“It is reckless for the media or public health authorities to extrapolate this problem with a single food item to the entire fruit and vegetable industry. Most of the hundreds of fresh produce items offered for sale in the United States are not and have never been associated with foodborne illness. Everyone should be eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables for better health,“ the groups said.

The backgrounder said most foodborne illness is caused by improper food handling in restaurants and pointed out the fresh produce industry commitment to food safety and security practices. The backgrounder urged a timely resolution to government investigations relating to the Hepatitis A outbreaks.

The united and coordinated industry response to the crisis is necessary today and will be needed tomorrow to help put in perspective consumer anger and institutional fear.