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Sales boost at St. Pete farm with 'worry free' romaine lettuce

Posted at 5:37 AM, Nov 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-29 06:32:32-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Millions of bags of romaine lettuce have been tossed out across the nation after 43 people reported getting sick with E-coli.

RECOMMENDED: Romaine lettuce warning: CDC urges people not to buy or eat it due to E. coli risk

The CDC says some romaine lettuce, including greens grown in Florida, are now safe to eat. The investigation is now centering in on 6 central California counties where the greens are grown: Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Ventura.

The E-coli warning has helped boost sales at a St. Pete farm that guarantees their romaine lettuce is “perfectly safe.” 

Inside Brick Street Farms in St. Pete's Warehouse Arts District, romaine lettuce is grown inside a hydroponic shipping container.

With no dirt, no bugs and no chemicals, E-coli has no chance.

Owner Shannon O’Malley prides her business for giving people in Tampa Bay a safer option for produce.

“Whenever one of these contamination scares come up, our business definitely skyrockets,” she explained.

The latest E-coli warning is one of a handful this year, doubling O’Malley's sales and putting emphasis on where the foods we eat come from.

“Lettuce is very susceptible because they are very delicate and they absorb the environment around them very easily so if it is exposed to a contaminant it’s likely to pick it up,” O'Malley added. 

O'Malley says unlike apples, cucumbers or pumpkin, which have a protective outside layer, lettuce is more susceptible to bacteria. 

“That, combined with the fact that 90 percent of the lettuce is grown in one location, is a huge concern so if there is a contamination issue in one area it’s likely to spread across the entire crop," she elaborated.

That's one reason she started growing the leafy greens in a controlled environment where UV lights are helping the greens grow faster, safer and with less water. 

“It’s a higher quality, it’s cleaner and safer for families. They tend to stick with us after the recall is over,” O'Malley said while showing off a row of romaine lettuce growing in one of the shipping containers.

The CDC just came out with new recommendations advising all lettuce harvesters to label their produce with the location where it was grown. 

Brick Street Farms sells their romaine to several St. Pete restaurants including Farm Table Kitchen, Locale Market, the Vinoy Hotel, Brick and Mortar, Bella Brava and Stillwaters Grill and Tavern. They also sell to the Don Cesar Hotel in St. Pete Beach. 

Their products are available for public purchase on Thursdays and Saturdays at their location at 2001 2nd Avenue South.