The lettuce was tested for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), specifically enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), and Salmonella spp. The FDA collected 504 romaine samples, and an independent lab conducted the testing.
E.coli O130:H11 was found in one sample, and as a result, the FDA conducted an investigation at the farm to find potential sources and routes of contamination—samples of soil, water, sediment and animal fecal material were taken, and the agency also looked at farm equipment and other surfaces. Out of 24 samples, just one came back positive for STEC, and this sample was taken from the outer leaves of the lettuce. It was determined that the strain was low risk to human health, and FDA did not find that this strain was linked to any past known foodborne illness outbreaks.
“The agency’s goal in conducting this assignment was to determine whether the target pathogens and specific strains may be present in romaine lettuce from the Yuma agricultural region, to help prevent foodborne illness when possible,” FDA stated in a constituent update. “If product that tested positive for EHEC or Salmonella was found, the Agency planned to work with industry and state regulatory partners to identify the cause (e.g., farm follow-up investigation) to inform future regulatory and/or research efforts and to develop strategies that could help preventive additional outbreaks.”
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.
Following last year’s widespread E.coli O157 outbreak involving romaine lettucelinked to the Yuma, Arizona growing region (Spring 2018), FDA launched a sampling assignment to test romaine lettuce for pathogenic Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Salmonella spp. The microbiological surveillance sampling began on December 18, 2018 in the Yuma region and focused on 26 commercial coolers and cold storage facilities to allow FDA to sample multiple farms from several locations at once. The agency collected and tested a total of 188 samples for both pathogens. It did not detect Salmonella in any sample; STEC was detected in one sample, but additional analysis found that the bacteria was not pathogenic.
“The findings of this assignment suggest that there was no widespread Salmonella or STEC contamination of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region during the period when sampling occurred. As a next step, the FDA is working with leafy green stakeholders in the Yuma region to consider a longer-term environmental study to identify and control risks that will prevent future outbreaks, with the ultimate goal of protecting consumers. – FDA
The point of the sampling assignment was to determine whether target pathogens were present, and if so, to respond quickly before contaminated products reached consumers.
Now the CDC is advising consumers, restaurants and retailers to get rid of all romaine lettuce—not just chopped romaine, but also whole heads and hearts of romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing the variety—if they cannot confirm the source. “Information collected to date indicates that romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region could be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and could make people sick,” the CDC states on its website.
The most current illness case count is 53, with illnesses reported in 16 states. There have been 31 hospitalizations thus far and no deaths, according to the CDC.
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