FDA unveils leafy green safety action plan
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has unveiled a wide-reaching action plan to improve the safety of leafy greens and prevent E. coli outbreaks.
The plan, which also includes bolstering response measures and plugging knowledge gaps, follows dozens of outbreaks of the pathogen over recent years.
Between 2009 and 2018, 40 foodborne outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections in the U.S. with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens were identified.
"Most leafy greens are grown outdoors, where they are exposed to soil, animals, and water, all of which can be a source of pathogen contamination," the FDA noted. "In addition, leafy greens are mostly consumed raw, without cooking or other processing steps to eliminate microbial hazards."
The FDA explained that with the implementation of the Produce Safety Rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), "great progress" has been made in laying the foundation for a prevention-oriented approach to produce safety.
"However, further steps are needed to address prevention and incorporate knowledge gained in recent years," it said.
Areas of focus and actions for prevention the FDA will pursue in 2020 include:
- advancing agricultural water safety
- enhancing inspection, auditing, and certification programs
- buyer specifications;
- creating a 'Leafy Green Data Trust'
- conducting microbiological surveys for STEC detection and bolstering sampling protocols
- increasing awareness and addressing concerns around adjacent and nearby land use
- establishing and strengthening regular outreach and communication programs for stakeholders in growing regions
For response actions, which the FDA says are essential for preventing illnesses, the plan includes:
- publishing the Salinas Outbreak Investigation Report
- conduct follow-up surveillance during the fall 2020 California season
- promoting tech-enabled traceability
- improving utilization of shopper card data
- accelerating whole-genome sequencing data submission by states
- advancing root cause analysis activities
- enhancing outbreak and recall communications
In addition, the FDA noted that while it and stakeholders have greatly expanded what is known about leafy greens safety, there are still knowledge gaps, which could be explored in new ways through the use of emerging technologies. The action plan therefore also includes:
- conducting longitudinal studies
- data mining and analytics on previous outbreaks
- adjacent and nearby land use
- compost sampling assignment with California