In light of the recent E. coli outbreak that has been linked to romaine lettuce, the FDA announced that it will begin targeted sampling of leafy greens grown on farms and ranches during the fall 2022 harvest season in the Salinas Valley region of California. In addition, the agency is releasing results from a 2021 sampling assignment and providing an update on other work happening under the Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan (LGAP).
The LGAP sampling efforts seek to detect and prevent contaminated product from reaching consumers and help leafy greens growers and processors identify practices or conditions that may present microbial risks so they can strengthen the microbiological safety of their operations.
During the fall 2022 harvest season the FDA plans to collect about 240 lettuce samples at farms/ranches in the Salinas Valley that were identified by traceback investigations in recent years as being potentially associated with a foodborne illness outbreak in which lettuce or leafy greens were the likely or suspect food vehicle.
The FDA notes that it also may collect environmental samples such as water, soil and scat, as appropriate, based on observations made at the time of sampling and a farm/ranch’s past inspection history. All samples will be tested for Salmonella spp. and E. coli O157:H7. The sampling will begin in mid-September 2022 and run through October 2022.
In 2021, the FDA conducted a leafy greens sampling assignment and has released a summary report of the results. As part of this assignment, the agency collected lettuce from commercial coolers in the Salinas Valley growing area and tested samples for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella spp. between May and November 2021. The agency detected Salmonella enterica in one green leaf sample and STEC in two other samples. The potentially contaminated products were destroyed and follow-up inspections were conducted.
As a result of continued outbreaks and ongoing concerns about leafy green contamination, multi-disciplinary food safety experts from across the FDA also will be visiting with leafy greens producers in California over the next two months to learn more about leafy greens operations. The FDA shared that recent outbreaks have raised concerns about the sanitary design of harvest equipment and how field production and processing practices may be contributing to contamination events, which spurred the creation of this working group.