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FDA PLACES LEAFY GREEN INDUSTRY ON NOTICE
POLITICO reports:

The FDA last week put the multibillion-dollar leafy greens industry on notice as it released the results of the agency's investigation into an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak last year.

To read the report click here.

The move didn't get much media attention, probably because the announcement was heavy on regulatory speak. But it could have potentially far-reaching consequences for the industry and for consumers.

Lest you forget: There were at least 30 E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in the U.S. and Canada linked to leafy greens between 2009 to 2018.

In 2019 alone, there were three outbreaks tied to leafy greens that sickened at least 188 people, including 92 hospitalizations and 16 cases of kidney failure. In October, Canada essentially banned leafy greens from the Salinas Valley after food safety officials there became fed up with the repeated outbreaks.

A call to action: Michael Taylor, former FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine and "godfather" of Food Safety Modernization Act, called FDA's latest statement an "unmistakable warning shot," in an opinion piece published in Food Safety News.

"I hope it will serve as a call to urgent action that gets to the root of the problem of the persistent presence of dangerous E. coli in the growing environment for leafy greens and other fresh produce," Taylor wrote.

A regulatory threat: In the investigation report, FDA cites regulatory language from its produce safety rule (part of FSMA) and points to the recurring problem of pathogenic E. coli as a hazard in the Salinas and Santa Maria growing areas. It attributes the problems to the presence of cattle on land near where greens are grown.

To read that report click here.

What's surprising, Taylor noted, "is that FDA used regulatory language to express its finding and spelled out the implications: farms covered by the FSMA produce safety rule 'are required to implement science and risk-based preventive measures" to minimize the risk of serious illness or death from the E. coli hazard.'"

The bottom line: The industry is being put on notice.

Looking beyond the greens fields: Leafy greens producers contend they are constantly improving food safety and welcome FDA's call to work on better solutions. There's also a growing recognition that the industry has to look beyond its own operations (remember: FDA keeps pointing to proximity to livestock).

"It's clear that we can't limit our focus to leafy greens farms, but we must take a more holistic approach that considers the environment outside of our farms," said said Tim York, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, a voluntary industry program that submits members to food safety audits by state inspectors. LGMA said it is working with landowners with vineyards and cattle operations near growing operations.

The beef industry perspective: MA asked the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to weigh in on all this, too.

"Previously, FDA has worked primarily with the leafy greens industry to resolve safety concerns - we strongly urge the agency to make livestock producers an equal partner in food safety conversations, as we all share the goal of providing safe, high-quality food to consumers," said NCBA CEO Colin Woodall, noting the group's members can "provide valuable contributions" to FDA's research into minimizing dangerous strains of E. coli.


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