Regulators want to reduce occurrences of foodborne illness by setting a limit on how much bacteria can be present in water used to irrigate fruits and vegetables.
But in Eastern Oregon and neighboring Idaho, many farmers say when applied to the onion industry, the rules are unscientific, unworkable, and unneeded.
“Have you ever eaten an onion where you haven’t peeled back the outer layers?” asks Paul Skeen, President of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association.
“There’s been onions grown in Malheur County for over a hundred years and there’s never been a problem with any kind of E. coli issue.”
This summer, researchers at Oregon State University’s Malheur Experiment Station conducted several small studies looking at E. coli and bulb onions.
The work was funded by onion growers in Oregon and Idaho. And while the results are preliminary, it suggests that in dry onion bulbs, E. coli levels become negligible with proper curing and storage.