Two E. coli outbreak investigations linked to romaine lettuce in 2018 took its toll in overall lettuce per capita availability. One of those probes led to a six-day hiatus of all romaine sales helping lead to a plunge of 20 percent, according to a new report.
Dragged sharply by lower lettuce availability, the latest per capita numbers on fresh vegetables reveal a reduction of 8 percent in 2018 compared with 2017.
Not counting potatoes and melons, the USDA reported 2018 fresh per capita vegetable availability was 144.81 pounds, down from 157.45 pounds a year ago.
The biggest fresh vegetable per capita declines from 2017-18, by percentage, were:
- Squash: 4.43 pounds, down 22 percent.
- Head lettuce: 12.33 pounds, down 19 percent;
- Leaf lettuce: 12.29 pounds, down 19 percent;
- Onions: 20.39 pounds, down 19 percent; and
- Broccoli: 5.93 pounds, down 17 percent.
With the decline in availability — what growers have shipped — and consumer reluctance to purchase romaine the wake of the E. coli outbreaks, romaine sales were down 18 percent by value and 17 percent by volume in 2018, according to IRI/Fresh Look Marketing,
Compared with 2017, the USDA said the top 5 gains in per capita availability for 2018, by percentage, were:
- Carrots: 8.53 pounds, up 16 percent;
- Asparagus: 1.76 pounds, up 9 percent;
- Snap beans: 1.68 pounds, up 8 percent;
- Cucumbers: 7.99 pounds, up 8 percent; and
- Celery: 4.98 pounds, up 5 percent.
The change in per capita consumption over the last decade shows winners and losers in a bigger context. Total fresh vegetable per capita availability in 2018 of 144.81 pounds is 1 percent higher than 2008.
Compared with 2008, the fresh vegetables with the biggest gains in per capita availability in 2018, by percentage, compared to 2008, were:
- Southern greens: 2.89 pounds (2018), up 64 percent;
- Cauliflower: 2.44 pounds (2018), up 55 percent;
- Asparagus: 1.76 pounds (2018), up 48 percent;
- Cucumber: 7.99 pounds (2018), up 25 percent; and
- Bell peppers: 11.16 pounds (2018), up 18 percent.
Biggest reductions in per capita availability over 10 years, from 2008 to 2018, according to the USDA, were:
- Head lettuce: 12.33 pounds, down 27 percent;
- Sweet corn: 6.75 pounds, down 26 percent;
- Cabbage: 5.71 pounds, down 29 percent;
- Celery: 4.98 pounds, down 20 percent; and
- Snap/green beans: 1.68 pounds, down 15 percent.