Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would take ‘two important steps to advance the safety of leafy greens’. These steps will impact the way leafy greens will be grown -and the safety of the product- and require the attention of the restaurant industry as a whole.
It all revolves around something that has been obvious to some for over a decade: the fact that cattle and/or dairy farms adjacent to farms where leafy greens are grown are the likely root cause of E. coli outbreaks tied to lettuce.
The FDA made clear both the likely cause of these outbreaks, and that the time has come for the leafy green industry to take action to prevent them. The FDA said out loud that contamination caused from “adjacent land” is a “reasonably foreseeable hazard.”
The FDA took specific aim at California growers as the cause of repeated and ongoing outbreaks, putting the responsibility of combating the outbreaks squarely on the growers. It statement read: “This reoccurring pathogenic E. coli strain therefore appears to be a reasonably foreseeable hazard in the California Central Coast leafy greens growing region, and specifically of concern in the South Monterey County area of the Salinas Valley growing area."
"Farms subject to the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule are required to take all measures reasonably necessary to identify, and not harvest, produce that is likely to be contaminated with a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard,” FDA officials said. “The updated plan includes a renewed emphasis on actions to prevent contamination stemming from activities on adjacent land."
The FDA recommends that, in the future, the growers work to “determine how the contamination likely occurred and then implement appropriate prevention and verification measures.”
In addition, the FDA recommends that the growers create “protocol[s] to aid in the development and registration of antimicrobial treatments for pre-harvest agricultural water, and several focused inspections, follow-up investigations, sampling assignments, and critical steps taken to advance traceability of leafy greens.”