Dining halls start serving romaine lettuce after ban

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Photo Credit: Ella Williams | Daily Texan Staff

When Claire Eckardt entered Littlefield Patio Cafe last week, she noticed there weren’t many salads available. 

“I was looking around, and I get salads pretty often, so I wondered what had happened,” said Eckardt, human development and family sciences freshman. “I feel like romaine lettuce is a staple of my diet, so when it wasn’t available, it definitely affected me.”

On Nov. 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement to University Housing and Dining to dispose of all romaine lettuce after it was linked to 32 people across 11 states contracting a strain of E. coli. Rene Rodriguez, director of dining for University Housing and Dining, said this notification launched a protocol University Housing and Dining uses whenever the CDC issues a food recall. 

“We removed it all and disposed it all right off the bat,” Rodriguez said. “I always err on the side of safety. None of our suppliers said their lettuce was affected, but we still pulled it. We notified (University Health Services), Student Affairs and (Environmental and Health Safety). All of that has to be done within an hour, otherwise we wouldn’t be preventative.”

On Nov. 27, Rodriguez said he received an all-clear notification from the CDC, as they had traced the infected romaine lettuce to farms in California. The suppliers for the dining halls, Rodriguez said, were farms in Texas.

“We have timelines of everything, including when we destroy things, how much we destroyed, and usually, we re-sanitize each location,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez said students eat an average of 1,200 pounds of romaine lettuce a week.

“Other than the inconvenience to the students, there hasn’t been a lasting impact,” Rodriguez said. “We had plenty of other salad options available, including spinach, iceberg lettuce and green leaf lettuce.”

In 2017, suppliers of University Housing and Dining issued a broccoli recall. Rodriguez said they had to disinfect cooking materials and dispose of other food that came in contact with the broccoli. 

“We had to check our records and track down the code numbers of which location the product reached,” Rodriguez said. “We had to find out how much of the product we had purchased, and figure out how much has been eaten on specific days. We make sure to track it exactly.”

Rodriguez said during food recalls, he notifies the students through messages in the dining halls.

Ben Caudill, an international relations and government freshman, said he didn’t notice the disappearance of romaine from the dining halls.

“I eat salad pretty often in the dining halls,” Caudill said. “I think I didn’t notice because the dining halls handled it pretty well. I saw when it happened on the news, so I’m happy the dining halls actually did something about it.”