Earlier last week I came across a viral video of a woman in her kitchen claiming to have found a layer of plastic on the leaves of her store-bought lettuce. Although I wasn't fazed by the claims this woman was making, I was alarmed that people were sharing it as a warning sign to their fellow Facebook friends. When I noticed this video had been shared throughout social media to tens of thousands of people, I started to wonder if I was one of the very few who knew there was an explanation for this skin-like layer of lettuce. Since I am no expert in vegetable production, I called on several reliable sources to find an explanation.
Turns out, what this woman found is a known agricultural phenomenon called epidermal peeling--a side effect of cold weather patterns throughout the growing season of lettuce. Much like a skin blister, epidermal peeling occurs when romaine lettuce, commonly grown in Arizona, is exposed to freezing temperatures that cause the leaves to form a protective layer. It has nothing to do with anything applied externally to the product. Although this occurrence is completely natural, it does cause some difficulty during the harvesting and processing stages.
Considering the recent romaine lettuce E. coli scare that caused 80 infections and more than 40 hospitalizations, I understand consumers' concern. Regardless, this is a perfect example of why it is so important for us to serve as a voice for the science and agricultural industries. If we are not on the front line sharing the facts about our industry, consumers will only have access to one side of the story.
By: Kylie Peterson (pic from nytime.com)