FDA is launching a program to collect romaine lettuce samples from commercial coolers in the Yuma County, Ariz. growing region. The samples will be tested for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Salmonella spp. as part of ongoing surveillance efforts following the spring 2018 multistate E. coli O157:H7 outbreak of foodborne illness linked to romaine lettuce from this agricultural region.
FDA plans to begin collecting samples of romaine lettuce from commercial coolers in February and intends to continue sampling through the end of the romaine harvest season in Yuma. The assignment will focus on commercial cooler and cold storage facilities where field heat is removed from harvested romaine and where product is cold stored before processing and shipment. The focus on these sites enables FDA to efficiently collect samples from multiple farms at centralized locations, following a similar model used during an assignment conducted in FY19.
The agency plans to collect and test approximately 500 samples of romaine lettuce for this program. Each sample will consist of 10 subsamples, and each subsample will be made up of at least 300 grams of romaine lettuce (whole heads, hearts, or individual leaves). FDA has contracted with an independent laboratory located in Arizona near the collection sites to test the samples, and expects to receive test results within 24 hours of the laboratory receiving the samples.
This program 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.