FDA Releases Possible Factors for 2018 E. Coli Outbreaks

Leafy Greens Industry and Public Were Severely Impacted

By Hank Giclas, Western Growers Sr. Vice President, Strategic Planning, Science & Technology

Recently, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration released an environmental assessment that provides an overview of factors that potentially contributed to the contamination of romaine lettuce with E. coli that was implicated in a 2018 multi-state foodborne illness outbreak. The assessment can be found here and includes the background on the outbreak; the environmental team approach; and factors potentially contributing to the introduction and spread of E. coli; along with recommendations for the prevention E. coli in leafy greens.

FDA recommends that growers and processors of leafy greens:

  • assure that all agricultural water (water that directly contacts the harvestable portion of the crop) used by growers is safe and adequate for its intended use (including agricultural water used for application of crop protection chemicals);
  • assess and mitigate risks related to land uses near or adjacent to growing fields that may contaminate agricultural water or leafy greens crops directly (e.g. nearby cattle operations or dairy farms, manure or composting facility);
  • verify that food safety procedures, policies, and practices, including supplier controls for fresh-cut processors, are developed and consistently implemented on farms (both domestic and foreign) and in fresh-cut produce manufacturing/processing food facilities to minimize the potential for contamination and/or spread of human pathogens;
  • when a foodborne pathogen is identified in the growing or processing environment, in agricultural inputs (e.g., agricultural water), in raw agricultural commodities or in fresh-cut, ready-to-eat produce, a root cause analysis should be performed to determine the likely source of the contamination, if prevention measures have failed, and whether additional measures are needed to prevent a reoccurrence; and
  • Local in-depth knowledge and actions are critical in helping resolve potential routes of contamination of leafy greens in the Yuma growing region, including Imperial County and Yuma County, moving forward. FDA urges other government and non-government entities, produce growers and trade associations in Yuma and Imperial Counties to further explore possible source(s) and route(s) of contamination associated with the outbreak pathogen and with other foodborne pathogens of public health significance. This information is critical to developing and implementing short- and long-term remediation measures to reduce the potential for another outbreak associated with leafy greens or other fresh produce commodities.

The findings in the Environmental Assessment appear to provide little new information but will be closely reviewed by Western Growers and others as part of our industry’s ongoing efforts to ensure food safety.

Immediately after the outbreak, Western Growers collaborated with the leafy greens industry to help lead a task force that would assess the source of the outbreak, as well as develop recommendations to prevent future outbreaks. While sources of contamination remain uncertain, the task force made concrete recommendations to industry for assuring water is safe and adequate, assessing and mitigating risk from adjacent land uses as well as others to address risks from equipment and climatic conditions.  These recommendations go well beyond the requirements of the FDA’s own Produce Safety Rule and have already been incorporated into the California and Arizona LGMA requirements. State auditors are now charged with verifying adherence to these new controls through announced and un-announced audits that occur throughout the seasons. The industry is furthering its efforts to learn more including through research guided by respected entities such as the Center for Produce Safety and working directly with California and Arizona academic teams. There is a strong and broad commitment to continually work to improve our food safety system.

Other related information posted by FDA includes:

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Apple Commission Joins Listeria Outbreak Investigation in Caramel Apples

California Victim Represents the First Wrongful Death Suit in this Listeria Outbreak

 

By Laurie Greene, CalAgToday reporter and editor

On December 19, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it is collaborating with several states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in an investigation of the outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infection (listeriosis) in commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples.
The first wrongful death lawsuit was filed in California by James Raymond Frey on behalf of his late wife, Shirlee Jean Frey, 81, against Safeway Inc. over the commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, implicated in a 10-state Listeria outbreak responsible for a total of 29 people (as of yesterday) who have been hospitalized, including five deaths.
Though the product in question was linked to Carnival brand and Kitchen Cravings brand caramel apples, specifically, CDC is warning the public not to eat caramel apples–plain or with nuts or other toppings, but clarified, “at this time, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy.” Safeway removed the product from it shelves.
The investigation is still working to determine specific brands or types of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples that may be linked to the illnesses.
Listeria is one of the more deadly food pathogens. The most recent Listeria outbreak occurred three years ago from Colorado-grown contaminated cantaloupes, causing three dozen deaths. The pathogen  affects primarily women, newborns, older adults and other people with compromised immune systems. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches and gastrointestinal problems.
The California Apple Commission is working with other apple producing states and the U.S. Apple Association on this issue.  Should California apple growers receive any calls regarding this issue or need additional information, please contact Alexander Ott, Executive Director the Commission office in Fresno by email at calapple@calapple.org or phone 1-559-225-3000.
Photo source: CDC

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