Food Safety Magazine

March 5, 2020

FDA's 2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan

FDA's 2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan

Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the 2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan, outlining steps the agency plans to take this year to advance the safety of leafy greens.

While most strains of Escherichia coli are harmless, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC, can be life-threatening. The most common STEC, E. coli O157:H7, is the type most often associated with outbreaks.

Fresh leafy greens are an important part of an overall healthy diet. While millions of servings of leafy greens are consumed safely every day, this produce commodity has been too often implicated in outbreaks of foodborne illness. Between 2009 and 2018, the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 40 foodborne outbreaks of STEC infections with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens in the U.S.

In an FDA Voices article, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas highlight the importance of FDA’s action plan and the agency’s focus on prevention, response, and addressing knowledge gaps.

Due to the reoccurring nature of outbreaks associated with leafy greens, FDA has developed this commodity-specific action plan. What follows is an overview of the actions FDA plans to take in 2020 to advance work in three areas: (1) prevention, (2) response, and (3) addressing knowledge gaps.

Prevention focus areas and actions will include:

  • Advance agricultural water safety
  • Enhance inspection, auditing, and certification programs
  • Buyer specifications
  • Leafy green data trust
  • Microbiological surveys for STEC detection and enhanced sampling protocols
  • Increase awareness and address concerns around adjacent and nearby land use
  • Establish/strengthen regular outreach and communication programs for stakeholders in growing regions

Response focus areas and actions will include:

  • Publish Salinas outbreak investigation report
  • Conduct follow-up surveillance during the fall 2020 California growing/harvest season
  • Promote tech-enabled traceability
  • Improve utilization of shopper card data
  • Accelerate whole-genome sequencing data submission by states
  • Advance root cause analysis activities
  • Enhance outbreak and recall communications

Addressing knowledge gaps - focus areas and actions will include:

  • Conduct longitudinal studies
  • Data mining and analytics 
  • Adjacent and nearby land use
  • Compose sampling assignment with California

The FDA intends to hold a webinar in the coming weeks to further discuss the action plan with interested stakeholders. More information, including how to register for the webinar, will soon be available on FDA.gov.

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