July 31, 2021

FDA Trying New Romaine Sampling Plan in Yuma, Arizona

The FDA is trying a new romaine sampling plan in Yuma, Arizona. Romaine grown in that area was linked to a deadly E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that sickened at least 210 people in 36 states. Ninety six people were hospitalized. Twenty-seven patients developed HUS. And five people, who lived in Arkansa, California, Minnesota (2 people), and New York, sadly died.

FDA Trying New Romaine Sampling Plan in Yuma, Arizona

And a deadly E. coli O157:H7 outbreak last year, that sickened 32 people in 12 states and was unsolved, was caused by the same strain that made people sick in the 2018 Yuma, Arizona romaine outbreak. That outbreak was not linked to any food or any growing region.

So it’s appropriate for the FDA to concentrate on that growing region. Lab testing during the investigation found the outbreak strain of E. coli in canal water in the area of the growing fields in 2018.

The samples will be collected from commercial coolers in the Yuma growing region during the current harvest season, which is happening now. The samples will be tested for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and Salmonella species.

The sample collecting will begin in February and will continue through the end of the romaine harvest season in Yuma, which began in November and runs through March. The assignment will focus on commercial cooler and cold storage facilities where field heat is removed from the harvested heads and where the romaine is cold stored before it is processed and shipped. This will let the FDA efficiently collect samples from multiple farms at centralized locations.

About 500 samples of romaine will be collected. Each sample will consist of 10 subsamples, and each subsample will contain at least 300 grams of romaine, including whole heads, hearts, or individual leaves. The samples will be collected before processing and before any workers handle the produce.

The FDA is using an independent laboratory coated in Arizona near the collection sites to test the samples. This will reduce time between sample collection and reporting results. Test results should be received within 24 hours, which will then be relayed to the firms involved. Industry may hold the sampled lots pending notification of test results to help prevent recalls.

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