E. Coli Fears Prompt Lettuce Recall

Just nine days after the Food and Drug Administration announced it was safe to eat spinach again, a Salinas, Calif., produce company has voluntarily recalled some of its lettuce crop after irrigation water samples tested positive for E. coli contamination.

The family-owned Nunes Co., which grows vegetables in California and Arizona, pulled 8,500 cartons of Foxy brand green leaf lettuce from stores and distributors.

"We have recovered 97 percent of the affected cartons, and only 250 are still outstanding," said Tom Nunes Jr., president of the company. He said the produce still unaccounted for has been isolated to the West and may have been distributed in California, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

"This is the first time this has happened," Nunes told ABC News.

"We're just being very cautious, and we're trying to eliminate the problem before a problem can actually develop," said Nunes, who added that "recent events in the produce industry" also factored into the company's decision to take this "precautionary measure."

The company initiated the recall on Saturday when workers discovered that water used to irrigate the lettuce may have been contaminated with E. coli. Initial results from the routine water test led to further investigations, which indicated that the problem was caused by a secondary irrigation water source.

So far, tests have shown no contamination in the lettuce itself, but Nunes said the investigation is still ongoing and the company plans to retest both the water supply and the potentially affected produce in the coming days.

"The likelihood of an outbreak is very low," said Nunes.

The lettuce recall is not related to the recent contamination of spinach, and there have been no illnesses caused by eating the potentially affected lettuce, according to the FDA.

"There is no indication so far that this latest recall involves the same strain of E.coli linked to two deaths and 192 reported cases with spinach contamination," FDA spokeswoman Julie Zawisza told ABC News. "There are no reported cases of illness linked to lettuce so far."

Only Foxy brand green leaf lettuce has been recalled. No other Nunes products, shippers or brands are affected.

"Only green leaf lettuce is part of this recall, not iceberg and not romaine," Nunes said.

Company officials said the lettuce was harvested from one farm and can be identified by the Foxy brand sold under lot code 6SL0024, which was shipped from Tuesday, Oct. 3, through Friday, Oct. 6.

"If this is a case of bacterial contamination, we would need to find out the scope," Zawisza said in an e-mailed statement to ABC News. "As a standard course of action, we would expect the firm to identify the source of the contamination and take steps to ... ensure that it doesn't happen again."

Investigations are already under way by both the FDA and the California Department of Health Services to determine the source of the water contamination. Officials will try to establish whether this latest E. coli outbreak stems from the same strand that was found in spinach nearly a month ago; that outbreak has been linked to three deaths and almost 200 illnesses nationwide.

Tensions have peaked in California's Salinas Valley farming community, which is still struggling to recover from last month's spinach E. Coli outbreak.

Moving forward from the incident has proved complicated for the "salad bowl" region because the FDA has yet to determine the cause of the spinach contamination. The latest recall has exacerbated the area's anxiety.

"The lettuce recall has kind of a good and bad to it. The good part is that it demonstrates that the system does work, but it's a shame that it was a little slow," said Bob Perkins, executive director of Monterey County's Farm Bureau.

"Ideally, the contamination would be detected before the product got into the market system," Perkins added.

But Perkins hopes that preventive measures, like the Nunes Co.'s voluntary recall, will help restore consumer faith in Central Coast produce.

"We're not talking a lot about the dollars and cents -- that's not the issue. Whatever happens will happen. This is a large and resilient industry, but the issue here is how to protect consumers," Perkins said.

It's too soon to tell what effect the lettuce recall will have on produce sales around the country, but Perkins urged consumers to remain confident in the industry's food-safety protocols and products.

"Bottom line, the stuff is good for you. I think people will continue eating fresh vegetables," Perkins said.