FDA releases investigative report following outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in fall 2020 linked to leafy greens

For immediate release:
Declaration of :

Frank Yannas
Assistant Commissioner for Food Policy and Response – Food and Drug Administration

As part of our ongoing efforts to combat foodborne illnesses, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today released a report on the investigation of the fall 2020 outbreak of E. .grown greens on the central coast of California. The report describes the survey results, as well as trends that are critical to understanding green leaf outbreaks linked to California’s Central Coast growing region, specifically encompassing the growing areas of the Salinas Valley and Santa Maria every fall since 2017.

We published our preliminary findings earlier this year which noted that this investigation revealed the strain of the outbreak in a sample of cattle feces collected from the side of a road about a mile uphill from a farm in products. This finding has once again drawn our attention to the role that livestock grazing on agricultural land near leafy greens fields may have on increasing the risk of contamination of produce, where contamination may be spread by water, wind or other means. In fact, results from foodborne illness outbreak investigations since 2013 suggest that one factor that may have contributed to the contamination of leafy greens has been proximity to livestock. Cattle have been repeatedly shown to be a persistent source of E. coli pathogens, including E. coli O157:H7.

Given this, we recommend that all growers be aware of and take into account adjacent land use practices, particularly with respect to the presence of livestock and the interface between farmland, rangeland and other agricultural areas, and conduct appropriate risk assessments and implement risk mitigation strategies. , if applicable. Raising awareness of adjacent land use is one of the specific objectives of the Hardwood Greens Action Plan that we released last March, and which we are also announcing is being updated today to include new activities for 2021.

During our analysis of outbreaks that have occurred each fall since 2017, we have determined that there are three key trends in leafy greens contamination with E. coli O157:H7 in recent years: a recurring strain, a recurring region and recurring problems with activities on adjacent land. The outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with leafy greens represents the latest in a repeated series of outbreaks associated with leafy greens originating in California’s Central Coast growing region (encompassing the Salinas Valley and Santa Maria).

In the investigation, the FDA recommends that leafy vegetable growers in California’s Central Coast growing region consider this recurring strain of E. coli as a reasonably foreseeable hazard, and of particular concern in the South Monterey County area of ​​the Salinas Valley. It is important to note that farms covered by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Product Safety Rule are required to implement science-based and risk-based preventative measures in the rule, this which includes practices that prevent the introduction of known or reasonably foreseeable hazards into or onto the products.

The FDA also recommends that the farming community in California’s Central Coast growing region work to identify where this recurring strain of E. pathogenic coli and probable routes of STEC contamination of green leaves. Specifically, we presented specific recommendations in our survey report for growers in California’s Central Coast leafy greens region. These recommendations include participation in the California Longitudinal Study and the California Agricultural Neighbors Task Force. When pathogens are identified through microbiological investigations, pre-harvest or post-harvest testing, we recommend growers implement industry-led root cause analyzes to determine how contamination likely occurred, and then put implement the appropriate prevention and verification measures.

Last year, we released the Leafy Greens Action Plan to foster a more urgent and collaborative approach to preventing leafy greens outbreaks caused by STEC. We have updated our plan for 2021 to include a renewed focus on actions to prevent contamination of adjacent lands, to include new actions that build on the achievements and learnings of the 2020 plan, and to renewing our commitment to actions that are difficult to accomplish. in 2020 due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FDA made significant progress on our leafy greens action plan this year by improving prevention strategies, enhancing agency and other entity response activities, and identifying and addressing gaps. knowledge gaps that exist around STEC contamination of leafy greens. We launched the California Longitudinal Study, developed an efficacy protocol for the development and registration of preharvest antimicrobial agricultural water treatments, and took critical steps to advance leafy green traceability. We also conducted several targeted inspections, follow-up surveys and sampling missions.

Although the FDA is strongly focused on taking action to help mitigate recurring green leaf contamination events, we cannot solve this problem alone. Industry leadership and collaboration among growers, processors, retailers, state partners, and the broader farming community are key to reducing foodborne illness. At the FDA, the safety of leafy greens remains a top priority, and we are committed to working with all stakeholders to address this important public health issue and further protect consumers.

The FDA, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, protects public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and safety of drugs, vaccines, and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency is also responsible for the safety and security of the food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, electronic radiation emitting products and the regulation of tobacco products.

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