New FDA sampling plan for romaine lettuce grown in Yuma

After an environmental review of factors that may contribute to the contamination of romaine lettuce with E. coli O157: H7, which was implicated in a food-borne disease outbreak in several states in 2018 (discussed here), the FDA announced plans to take samples of romaine lettuce grown in the Central Coast, Central Valley and Imperial Valley in California and in Yuma, Arizona for Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Salmonella spp. Since 2012, there have been five suspected or confirmed multi-stage foodborne disease outbreaks associated with produce harvested in the Yuma growing area, and it is believed that other farms in the area in addition to the one farm affected during the FDA investigation contributed to this could have a spring 2018 E. coli outbreak.

On February 5, 2021, the FDA announced plans to shortly collect approximately 500 samples of romaine lettuce from commercial refrigerators and cold stores for STEC and Salmonella during the growing season as part of the program that will keep lettuce from multiple farms in the Yuma area on ongoing surveillance efforts the agency. By contracting an independent laboratory near the collection points, the FDA expects test results to be received within 24 hours of the laboratory receiving the sample. While not required, the industry can retain batches of samples until the test results are announced to prevent possible recalls of contaminated lettuce that may have been on the market.

In similar tests conducted last year, no STECs related to human health and no Salmonella spp. were detected in 118 samples from the Yuma growing area. Microbiological testing of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing area is one of several measures outlined in the FDA’s Leafy Greens Action Plan. The aim is to identify potential sources and routes of contamination, determine what preventive measures are needed, and prevent outbreaks of foodborne diseases.

© 2020 Keller and Heckman LLPNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 39

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