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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

Episode 118: What's in a face?

Jun 18, 2019

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Romaine contamination is making other lettuces more expensive

Mitchell Hartman Dec 4, 2018
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Been down the produce aisle at your local grocery recently?

You might have seen signs alerting consumers to an E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce. Maybe a notice that the store isn’t selling any romaine until it can get the produce from outside the California region to which the contamination is linked.

You know what happens when a product gets scarce, right? Yep, prices go up.  

A market in Portland

Nancy Chavez was shopping at a grocery in Portland, Oregon, on a recent morning. She said she doesn’t care for romaine lettuce all that much.

“I buy a lot of butter lettuce and red leaf lettuce,” she said. Doesn’t like iceberg that much. “It’s just kind of bland. But every now and then I will purchase that and mix it up. Iceberg usually is about $1.29 or so. I’ve seen it for, like, $1.49. Just a little bit higher.”

This reporter found a head of iceberg priced at $1.69 at a local Safeway market.

Supply and demand, leafy greens style

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture daily produce pricing data, the wholesale price of iceberg has roughly doubled since the E. coli warning Nov. 20.

“When we pull everything off the market like we did with romaine, what we’ll start to see is people moving to other leafy greens,” said Mark Manfredo, an agricultural economist at Arizona State University. 

The supply of salad ingredients is down, but people still want salad, so prices go up.

Caesar salad lovers, rejoice

Some romaine is trickling back into the market now that the source of the contamination has been identified, said Dan Sumner, agricultural economist at University of California, Davis.

“The FDA said ‘Look for the label. If it says it’s Arizona, it’s OK.’ But there may be some consumers still hesitant.” 

But Sumner said salad lovers won’t give up their romaine forever. 

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