Tag Archives: leafy greens

CEA Food Safety Certification

CEA Food Safety Coalition Establishes First Food Safety Certification for Leafy Greens Grown Indoors

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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CEA Food Safety Certification

Last week the CEA Food Safety Coalition announced the first food safety certification program for leafy greens grown indoors. The food safety addendum intends to address the distinct attributes of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) as it relates to leafy greens and is a certification in addition to demonstrating GFSI compliance.

“Current food safety standards were written for the field, and many do not address the unique attributes of controlled, indoor environments,” said Marni Karlin, executive director of the Coalition in a press release. “This new certification process and the accompanying on-pack seal helps to unify CEA growers while also differentiating them from traditional field agriculture. It also better informs consumers and provides a quick-glance image to know when produce has been grown safely indoors, with a high standard of quality and without some of the hazards of the field, such as potential contamination from animal byproducts.”

CEA Food Safety Certification
CEA Food Safety Certification

CEA is a technology-forward method that establishes optimal growing conditions in controlled environments such as greenhouses and indoor vertical farms. The certification program is for CEA FSC members (at a cost) and is completed annually. It assesses CEA grower sites in the four main areas:

  • Hazard analysis.: Including use of water, nutrients, growing media, seeds, inputs and site control.
  • Water use. Any contact with the plant and food contact surfaces, along with the use of recirculating water.
  • Site control, infrastructure and system design. Including direct and adjacent food contact surfaces, and physical hazards such as lighting, robotics, sensors, and equipment.
  • Pesticide and herbicide use and testing during the plant lifecycle.
FDA

FDA Publishes Report on Fall 2020 E. Coli Outbreak in Leafy Greens

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Today the FDA released a report on its investigation into the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak involving leafy greens during the Fall 2020. The report also identified three reoccurring trends in the contamination of leafy greens grown in the Central Coast of California related to the outbreak strain, region and issues with activities on adjacent land.

In January, FDA released preliminary findings, which linked cattle feces to the outbreak strain—located uphill from where contaminated leafy greens were grown.

“In the investigation, the FDA recommends that growers of leafy greens in the California Central Coast Growing Region consider this reoccurring E. coli strain a reasonably foreseeable hazard, and specifically of concern in the South Monterey County area of the Salinas Valley,” stated Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response, in an agency news release. “It is important to note that farms covered by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule are required to implement science and risk-based preventive measures in the rule, which includes practices that prevent the introduction of known or reasonably foreseeable hazards into or onto produce.”

The 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series kicks off on May 6 with a keynote address from Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner of food policy and response at FDA The FDA also recommends that the region’s agricultural community work to determine where the reoccurring strain of the pathogenic E. coli is persisting, along with the probable contamination route(s).

“Although the FDA is keenly focused on taking steps to help mitigate recurring leafy green contamination events, we alone cannot fix this issue. Industry leadership and collaboration among growers, processors, retailers, state partners and the broader agricultural community is critical to reducing foodborne illnesses,” Yiannas stated. “At the FDA, the safety of leafy greens remains a top priority, and we are committed to working with all stakeholders to address this significant public health issue and further protect consumers.”

The Report, “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Leafy Greens Implicated in the Fall 2020 Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7”, can be downloaded from FDA’s website.

Deane Falcone, CropOne
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E. Coli on the Rise: Lettuce Explain

By Deane Falcone, Ph.D.
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Deane Falcone, CropOne

The CDC estimates that 48 million people in the United States become sick with a foodborne illness each year. Some of the most common of these illnesses include norovirus, Salmonella, and E. coli. Each can result in a range of symptoms, from mild discomfort to serious, life-threatening illnesses. Although the coronavirus pandemic has worked to create a sense of heightened public health awareness, one of these common, yet preventable, foodborne illnesses—E. coli—is still on the rise.

What Is E. coli and How Common Are Infections?

According to the CDC, Escherichia coli (E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals. Most strains of the bacteria are harmless, but certain ones can make you sick, causing diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, or other illnesses.

When it comes to understanding the scale of the problem, upwards of 70,000 Americans are estimated to fall ill because of E. coli each year, thousands of whom require hospitalization. E. coli outbreaks have been occurring with regularity, and the number of cases are increasing instead of slowing down, in frequency. In November 2020 alone, there were three ongoing E.coli outbreaks in the United States, accounting for 56 infections, 23 hospitalizations, and one death. At least one of these outbreaks stemmed from a common target for the bacteria: Romaine lettuce. When it comes to E. coli-contaminated foods, fresh leafy greens such as romaine or spinach are the most common vehicles for E. coli that can pose serious risks to human health.

Leafy Greens: An Ideal Target

Leafy greens are an easy target for E. coli for a number of reasons, the first being their popularity. The public recognition of the health value of consuming greater amounts of fresh leafy greens has correspondingly increased the production area of such produce to meet consumer demand. Crop production over wider areas makes tracking of contamination in the field more difficult and the greater consumption increases chances of eating contaminated leafy greens. This type of produce also grows low to the ground, increasing chances of exposing the edible, leafy portions of the lettuce to contaminated water. Finally, other vegetables are often cooked prior to consumption, killing the bacteria, whereas romaine and other leafy greens are often consumed raw.

Once this type of produce is exposed to contaminants, several characteristics of leaf surfaces make removal of bacteria such as E. coli difficult. Studies have shown that, at the microscopic level, the “roughness” or shape of the leaf surface can influence the degree to which bacteria adheres to leaves. Bacteria have specific protein fibers on their surface that are involved in the attachment of the bacteria to the leaf surface and this has been shown to be dependent on the surface roughness of the leaf. Other factors include the “pores” on leaf surfaces—stomata—through which plants take up carbon dioxide and release oxygen and water vapor. Pathogenic E. coli has been observed to enter such stomatal pores and therefore is often very resistant to removal by washing. Moreover, the density of stomata within leaves can vary between different varieties of lettuce or spinach and so affects the degree of E. coli attachment. Additional factors such as leaf age, damage and amount of contaminating bacteria also affect how effectively bacteria adhere to the leaves, making washing difficult.

Are E. Coli Outbreaks Avoidable?

Unfortunately, E. coli outbreaks will likely remain prevalent because of the challenge of interrogating all irrigation water for large and widespread production fields. Once microbial contaminants are present on fresh leafy produce, their complete removal by washing cannot be guaranteed, and it is very difficult to monitor every plot of crops continuously. However, there is a solution to this problem: Controlled environment agriculture (CEA). CEA is an broad term used for many varieties of indoor plant cultivation and can be defined as a method of cultivating plants in an enclosed environment, using technology to ensure optimal growing conditions.

Because outbreaks caused by E. coli-contaminated produce are most often due to produce coming into contact with contaminated irrigation water, indoor growing provides an ideal solution with zero reliance on irrigation water. It also offers a sealed environment with virtually no risk of contamination from animal excrement or other pathogen sources. Indoor farming also makes additional features possible that enhance safety including the use of purified water and handling done only by staff wearing protective clothing (for the plants) including lab coats, hair nets, and gloves. No ungloved hand ever comes into contact with the produce either during growth or in packaging. These standards are nearly impossible to achieve in a traditional farm setting.

Using hydroponic technology enables farming in a clean and contaminant-free, indoor environment. Applying best hygienic practices with this growing model provides safe and clean growth in a sealed, controlled environment, with virtually no risk of illness-causing pathogens.

At this point, not everyone can access food coming from a clean, indoor facility. At the consumer level the best way to avoid E. coli infection remains simply being diligent when it comes to washing. Even if produce is labeled “triple-washed,” if it was grown outdoors, the consumer should always wash it again. Or better yet, look for indoor, hydroponically-grown produce to further mitigate the risk.

Although these outbreaks will continue, as they do, we suspect more consumers will embrace indoor-grown produce and this emerging form of agriculture as a safer alternative. As consumers increasingly understand the advantages of indoor growing, such as enhanced quality and longer shelf life, the popularity of this growth method will increase. Eventually, a greater quantity of the most commonly-infected produce will come from these controlled environments, gradually producing an overall safer and healthier mass product.

FDA

FDA to Test Yuma-Grown Romaine Lettuce for E. Coli and Salmonella

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Today the FDA announced a new plan to collect samples of romaine lettuce as part of its ongoing surveillance after the spring 2018 multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. The samples, which will be tested for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Salmonella, will be collected from commercial coolers in Yuma County, Arizona during the current harvest season.

FDA plans to collect and test about 500 samples (each of which will consist of 10 subsamples), beginning in February and continuing through the end of the harvest season. In order to reduce the time between sample collection and reporting results, an independent lab close to the collection sites in Arizona will be testing the samples. FDA expects to receive test results within 24 hours.

“Helping to ensure the safety of leafy greens continues to be a priority of the FDA. This assignment adds to other work underway in collaboration with stakeholders in the Yuma agricultural region to implement actions identified in the Leafy Greens Action Plan, including a multi-year study to assess the environmental factors that impact the presence of foodborne pathogens in this region. Consistent with the action plan, the agency will engage with industry on conducting root cause analyses for any positive samples found during this assignment. Root cause analyses are important in that they seek to identify potential sources and routes of contamination, inform what preventive measures are needed, and help prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness,” FDA stated in a release.

COVID-19 precautions will be taken during the sampling plan. Agency investigators will preannounce visits and wear PPE while conducting the work.

FDA

In a Year of ‘Unprecedented Challenges’ FDA’s Food Program Achieved So Much

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Earlier this week FSMA celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas reflected on the progress and accomplishments as a result of this legislation, and the path forward. As we round out the first week of 2021, Yiannas is looking back at the achievements of 2020 in the face of the historic COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m struck by how tirelessly our team members have worked together to help ensure the continuity of the food supply chain and to help keep food workers and consumers alike safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Yiannas on the FDA Voices blog. “Their commitment has not wavered in a time when we’re all dealing personally with the impact of the pandemic on our families, schooling our children from home and taking care of elderly parents.”

  • Response to COVID-19. FDA addressed the concern of virus transmission, assuring consumers that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted via food or its packaging. The agency also worked with CDC and OSHA on resources to help promote worker safety and supply chain continuity.
  • Release of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint
  • Release of the 2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan with a focus on prevention, response and research gaps
  • Artificial Intelligence pilot program to strengthen the screening of imported foods
  • Proposed Food Traceability Rule issued in an effort to create more recordkeeping requirements for specific foods
  • New protocol for developing and registering antimicrobial treatments for pre-harvest agricultural water
  • Enhanced foodborne outbreak investigation processes and established the outbreak investigation table (via the CORE Network) to disseminate information about an outbreak right when the agency begins its investigation
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FDA Report on E. Coli Outbreak in Romaine Lettuce Points to “Significant” Finding of Strain in Sediment of Water Reservoir

By Maria Fontanazza
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The November 2018 outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce caused 62 illnesses across 16 states. The FDA zeroed in on the Central Coast growing regions of northern and Central California as being responsible for the contamination. The outbreak was declared over on January 9 and yesterday FDA released the report, “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Romaine Lettuce Implicated in the Fall 2018 Multi-State Outbreak of E.Coli O157:H7”, which provides an overview of the investigation.

The report states that a sediment sample coming from an on-farm water reservoir in Santa Maria (Santa Barbara County, California) tested positive for the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. Although this particular farm was identified in several legs of the Fall 2018 traceback investigations that occurred in the United States and Canada, as well as being a possible supplier of romaine lettuce in the 2017 traceback investigations, the FDA said that the farm is not the single source of the outbreak, as there is “insufficient evidence”. The traceback suggests that the contaminated lettuce could have come from several farms, because not all tracebacks led to the farm on which the contaminated sediment was found.

“The finding of the outbreak strain in the sediment of the water reservoir is significant, as studies have shown that generic E. coli can survive in sediments much longer than in the overlying water. It’s possible that the outbreak strain may have been present in the on-farm water reservoir for some months or even years before the investigation team collected the positive sample. It is also possible that the outbreak strain may have been repeatedly introduced into the reservoir from an unknown source,” stated FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas in a press announcement.

(left to right) Stic Harris, FDA; Matt Wise, CDC; Dan Sutton, Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange; Scott Horsfall, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement discuss the first E.coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce during a panel at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium. Read the article about the discussion.

Although the exact route of contamination cannot be confirmed, the FDA hypothesizes that it could have occurred through the use of agricultural water from an open reservoir, which has increased potential for contamination.

The investigation teams also found evidence of “extensive” wild animal activity and animal burrows near the contaminated reservoir, as well as adjacent land use for animal grazing, all of which could have contributed to the contamination.

Although FDA did not directly name the farm in the report, it provided a link about the recall that was initiated by the farm, Adam Bros. Farming, Inc., in December.

Considering the significant effect that the past two E.coli outbreaks involving romaine lettuce have had on both the public as well as the produce industry, FDA made several recommendations on preventive measures that leafy greens growers and industry can take to avoid such pathogenic contamination, including:

For growers:

  • Assessing growing operations to ensure they are in line with compliance to FSMA and good agricultural practices
  • Making sure that any agricultural water that comes into direct contact with the harvestable portion of the crop, food contact surfaces and harvest equipment is safe and sanitary
  • Address and mitigate risks associated with agricultural water contamination that can occur as a result of intrusion by wild animals
  • Address and mitigate risks associated with the use of land near or adjacent to agricultural water sources that can lead to contamination
  • Conduct root cause analysis whenever a foodborne pathogen is identified in the growing environment, agricultural inputs like water or soil, raw agricultural commodities, or “fresh-cut” ready-to-eat produce

For the broader industry:

  • The development of real-time procedures that enable rapid examination of the potential scope, source and route of contamination
  • All leafy green products should have the ability to be traced back to the source in real time, and information include harvest date. In November, FDA requested voluntary labeling [https://foodsafetytech.com/news_article/cdc-alert-do-not-eat-romaine-lettuce-throw-it-out/] to help consumers identify products affected during an outbreak
  • The adoption of best practices in supply chain traceability

Resources

  1. FDA report: “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Romaine Lettuce Implicated in the Fall 2018 Multi-State Outbreak of E.Coli O157:H7”
  2. FDA statement from Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas
  3.  FDA investigation of source of E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce