According to various posts that circulate via social media and video sharing websites, romaine lettuce leaves are covered by a thin film of plastic. The posts feature videos showing people peeling off the supposed plastic film from the lettuce leaves.
Shared videos showing the supposedly plastic coated lettuce go back to at least 2012.
The videos have caused outrage among viewers who believe that they have been inadvertently eating plastic with their lettuce. Some have suggested that government or food industry conspiracies are afoot.
But, at least in this case, the outrage is misplaced. The thin film depicted in the videos is not plastic. In fact, the film is a completely natural substance that forms when the lettuce is grown in colder temperatures.
The cold can cause epidermal blistering on the outer skin of romaine and other types of lettuce. Consumers who subsequently buy the lettuce may encounter this freeze burned skin and even be able to peel it off as shown in the videos. And, at least at first glance, this peel does resemble a thin plastic film of some kind.
A February 2012 post on the Albert’s Organics blog explains:
There is a video circulating on the internet showing romaine lettuce with what appears to be a “plastic coating” peeling off the lettuce. We have received quite a few inquiries about this and wanted to address the concern. This “coating” is actually the “Epidermal or Skin Layer” of the lettuce and “not plastic”, which is why consumers of both organic and conventionally grown product have noticed the affect. It has nothing to do with anything that has been applied externally to the product.
And a January 2018 video on the “Live From The Fields” YouTube channel features a farmer further discussing the epidermal peeling:
For the record, the epidermal peeling that consumers may encounter has no connection to the recent E. coli bacterial contamination of some romaine lettuce that has been tied to the deaths of five people. The contamination has been traced to a tainted irrigation canal in Arizona.