The FDA plans to pay special attention to the safety of leafy greens, as a reaction to a spate of outbreaks of E. coli and other contamination.
The agency announced on March 5 a plan that includes a variety of actions across the supply chain, from farmers to retailers, that include better monitoring, education and data collection. The program is intended specifically to combat STEC, or shiga-toxin-producing E. coli, the class of organisms most commonly responsible for serious food-tainting incidents with fresh greens.
“While millions of servings of leafy greens are consumed safely every day, this produce commodity has been too often implicated in outbreaks of foodborne illness,” the agency said in a statement.
Reducing exposure to pathogens is especially important for foods like leafy greens that are often consumed uncooked. Romaine lettuce was the subject of massive recalls in 2018 and 2019.
The FDA plan singles out Yuma, Ariz., a lettuce-growing region where a contamination outbreak was attributed to irrigation water contaminated with cattle manure. Having cattle feedlots located near lettuce fields has been suggested as a potential ongoing problem. The FDA statement says the agency will seek to advance a rule for agricultural water used for “covered product.” It also will partner with local authorities and growers “to better understand the ecology of human pathogens in the Yuma growing region.”
Other proposed actions by the FDA include:
- Prioritizing inspections, on farms and elsewhere, and providing technical assistance to growers and processors;
- Encourage inspection standards and tracing capabilities among commercial greens buyers;
- Create a “data trust” of traceability information, audits, microbiological testing results and other data that can be accessed by players across the supply chain.