May 28, 2024

FDA Targets Sampling of Leafy Greens to Enhance Safety

The FDA targets sampling of leafy greens to enhance safety in the wake of the Wendy’s E. coli romaine lettuce outbreak that has sickened at least 97 people in six states. This is the ┬áimplementation of the Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan, which was launched in March 2020. There are three priority areas: Prevention, Response, and Addressing Knowledge Gaps.

FDA Targets Sampling of Leafy Greens to Enhance Safety

Sampling is intended to detect and prevent contaminated product from reaching consumers. It is also meant to help growers and processors identify practices that may present microbial risks.

During the harvest season in fall 2020, the FDA plans to collect about 240 lettuce samples at farms and ranches in the Salinas Valley in California. Three farms were identified by traceback in the past few years as being associated with a foodborne illness outbreak.

The FDA may also collect environmental samples including water, soil, and scat based on observations made at the time of sampling and a farm’s history. All samples will be tested for Salmonella species and E. coli O157:H7. Sampling will begin in mid-September 2022 and go through October 2022.

In 2021, a different assignment was conducted. A summary report of the results states that three positive samples were found out of 498 samples. Salmonella was found in one green leafy sample grown in King City and collected from a cooling operation in Gonzales. This subspecies is most often associated with reptiles and amphibians and did not match any human illnesses.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) was found in two samples, on red leaf lettuce and iceberg. But the pathogen on the red leaf sample collected from Salinas was actually a non-O157 STEC that was considered low risk to public health. The iceberg lettuce sample matched a laboratory control strain used for internal quality procedures, so that initial positive finding was reclassified as inconclusive.

Still, there was an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2021 linked to leafy greens: the Simple Truth Power Greens outbreak that sickened 10 people in Alaska, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington state. Four people were hospitalized and one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. That mix contained organic spinach, mizuna, kale, and chard.

So we await the results of the FDA’s sampling of leafy greens, and hope that there are no more leafy greens outbreaks this year.


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