How Climate Change Is Turning Lettuce From A Superfood To A Superbug

How Climate Change Is Turning Lettuce From A Superfood To A Superbug

February 12, 2019

Suddenly, leafy greens don’t seem so healthy anymore.

Since the start of 2018, there have been three outbreaks of foodborne illnesses caused by contaminated romaine lettuce across the United States and Canada. The most recent outbreak made 62 Americans and 29 Canadians suffer from severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

Although the feds managed to figure out what organism had tainted the lettuce – a type of E. coli bacteria known as O157:H7 – they couldn’t piece together how the lettuce became contaminated. They didn’t have any luck with the previous outbreaks, either. Those sickened far more people, and were linked to the deaths of six. 

But a culprit may be emerging. According to Wired Magazine, some experts suspect that the E. Coli outbreaks have something to do with the extreme weather linked to climate change. For example, before one outbreak, a freak storm produced an unseasonal frost followed by a windstorm. According to Wired, “The hypothesis of what happened next goes like this: The freeze blistered the leaves, breaking up their surface; then the winds blasted bacteria into the superficial wounds the freeze created, and the pathogens found their way into the vascular channels within the leaf, where they could not be washed away. But no one at the time thought to check for food-safety dangers; growers were focused on rescuing as much crop as possible.”

Some may shrug their shoulders and think, “Big deal. We’ll just stop eating salads and eat other vegetables.” But it’s not that simple. Contaminated lettuce is symptomatic of a larger problem. Climate change has the potential to affect all crops. That means the grains we use to make cereals, breads and snacks, as well as to feed livestock, also are at risk.

Unless something changes, and soon, the salads of the future may be light on the leafy greens, and heavy on the croutons. 

That sounds thoroughly unappetizing to us — how about you? You can help protect our food supply: Fight climate change by choosing renewable energy. Sign up for one of our green-energy plans today.