Hydroponic Lettuce Was Seen as Safe From Salmonella, Until an Outbreak


Her husband drove her to an emergency room, where she was erroneously diagnosed with viral gastritis. Back home, the diarrhea continued, causing her to rush to the bathroom as often as 15 times a day.

“A couple of times, it felt like labor,” Ms. Hilliard said. “I was just screaming from the pain.”

Her doctor provided stool testing kits. Soon after, she received a call from the DuPage County Health Department, saying that she had salmonella poisoning. When she was asked if she had eaten BrightFarms lettuce, the puzzle pieces clicked together.

Even now, she said, she does not feel completely healed. She reached a lawsuit settlement with BrightFarms for an amount she could not disclose based on the agreement, according to her lawyer, William Marler.

She rarely eats salads anymore, she said.

Asked about the lawsuit, Mr. Platt said: “We were saddened to learn Ms. Hilliard became ill. And while the root cause was not found in our farm, our insurers were able to reach a compassionate resolution.”

The C.D.C. estimates that salmonella bacteria — from many sources — cause about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the United States every year.

While the F.D.A. has not issued any new rules to date in response to the 2021 outbreak, Veronika Pfaeffle, a spokeswoman, said that the agency was aware of the growth of the hydroponic industry and would take any steps necessary to protect human health.

“C.E.A. practices, such as those used in hydroponic greenhouse operations, differ in important ways from practices used in open-field growing, and those unique differences must be addressed from a food safety perspective,” Ms. Pfaeffle said.



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