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Welcome to 2019, and if it’s anything like last year, buckle up for a stress-inducing roller-coaster ride.

The first thing that got our attention during last night’s celebrations was Google’s annual list of most-searched subjects of the year. There were many entries, but one category in particular stirred our interest.

Google listed the 10 most-searched food topics, and while keto diet items dominated the list, very high up was food safety, specifically the recall of romaine lettuce late in the year. More about that from a local standpoint in a moment.

But first, we had to find out exactly what a keto diet is all about. A keto, or ketogenic, diet is an extremely low-carb approach, which helps you metabolize fat more effectively, thus encouraging weight loss, improved health and performance.

Oddly enough, given the touted health benefits of a keto regimen, Google’s most-searched list includes stuff such as keto cookies, cheesecake and keto pancakes — not the food one might normally associate with dieting and better health.

Be that as it may, and as a potentially enthusiastic discussion topic on this first day of 2019, the significant food news for us involves that contaminated lettuce.

After weeks of investigation, the source of some of the tainted romaine narrowed down to a farm operation here in the Santa Maria Valley, whose officials blew the whistle on themselves as soon as they discovered the problem.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said investigators pinpointed the romaine lettuce associated with an outbreak of E. coli that sickened 59 people across 15 states and Washington, D.C to so-called end-of-summer lettuce harvested from this region and up north, but the product got an all-clear early last month.

Of greater concern for consumers, now that the lettuce crisis has been clarified, are the dozens of huge recalls throughout last year, hitting a large portion of the nation’s most popular foods.

Part of the reason for the increase in recalls has to do with stricter regulatory enforcement, but another is that producers are self-enforcing, because making consumers ill — or worse — is very bad for business. Even if the tainted food comes from a farm far away, the stigma of E. coli or salmonella outbreaks hurts all producers.

We wrote extensively in the year just ended about America’s infrastructure problems. From transportation to power distribution to water delivery, too many of our large systems are functionally obsolete, vulnerable to outside attack, or just too old and crumbling to be reliable.

That’s all hardware stuff, but there are clearly major issues affecting the nation’s food supply. The various recalls, literally from soup to nuts, is something about which every American consumer should be concerned.

Unfortunately, this nation’s real problems are being pushed into the background by political rhetoric and posturing, not just from President Trump and his administration, but from other branches of the federal government scrambling for political relevance.

Frankly, and as much as we’d love to use this space to reassure readers that 2019 will be a better year than the one just ended, early signs are that many huge challenges lie ahead, among them fixing what’s broken or breaking in America, and ensuring that what we bring home from the grocery story won’t sicken or kill us.

So, our new year’s resolution is to use this space to not only tell readers what’s happening, but to interpret the news and explain what we may reasonably expect to happen.

Let the work begin.

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