Reducing romaine lettuce contamination can’t be solved by a single industry or regulatory authority. A recent report by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the findings of an investigation that identified E. coli O157:H7 as the contaminant responsible for three of the largest outbreaks of disease caused by tainted romaine lettuce in 2019, and it determined that the contamination likely came from animal waste on surrounding feedlots that reached lettuce crops. In the report, the FDA concluded that when it comes to preventing contamination of leafy greens, this particular food safety problem will require cooperation from everyone involved — growers, ranchers, and local, state and federal agencies.
As a result, the FDA has published a 2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan that presents a three-pronged approach to this ongoing food safety issue. The plan outlines how the administration plans to proactively work with the industry, federal partners, state and local regulators, academia, and others to address the safety of leafy greens by advancing work in three specific areas: prevention, response and knowledge gaps. The following are highlights of the key initiatives from the report for each of these areas.
As part of the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule, steps will be taken to specifically address prevention by advancing agricultural water safety. With stakeholder input, initiatives will be developed to reinforce the importance of ensuring that workable standards are established across a variety of farms, crops, water sources and uses. It will strongly emphasize the importance of all growers adhering to good agricultural practices for water.
Essential to preventing illnesses, response activities must be conducted as quickly and thoroughly as possible. To accomplish this, a key area of focus and response actions the FDA will pursue in 2020 and beyond will include ongoing surveillance during the growing and harvest seasons. With tech-enabled end-to-end traceability throughout the leafy greens supply chain, it will be possible to quickly trace a contaminated food to its source, helping shorten outbreaks, narrow product warnings and prevent illnesses.
3. Knowledge Gaps
Emerging technologies are helping both the FDA and stakeholders greatly expand their knowledge and understanding of leafy greens safety and how to advance prevention. Tech strategies include longitudinal studies, data mining and analytics of previous outbreaks, and biological soil/compost sampling that can identify the vehicle for pathogen transference to produce.
It’s important that your food producer clients understand that while the FDA stands shoulder to shoulder with them to prevent outbreaks, it is going to require collaborative efforts to find comprehensive solutions to public health problems created by feedlots and neighboring produce farms.
At Worldwide Facilities, we are committed to staying informed and providing the resources that our retail brokers need regarding food safety and food recalls.