FDA Announces New Sampling Plan for Romaine Lettuce Grown in the Yuma, Arizona Growing Region
After an Environmental Assessment of factors potentially contributing to the contamination of romaine lettuce with E. coli O157:H7 that was implicated in a 2018 multi-state foodborne illness outbreak (discussed here), FDA announced plans to test samples of romaine lettuce grown in the Central Coast, Central Valley, and Imperial Valley in California and in Yuma, Arizona, for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Salmonella spp. There have been five suspected or confirmed multistate outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to produce harvested in the Yuma growing region since 2012 and it is suspected that other farms in that area, in addition to the one farm implicated during FDA’s investigation, may have contributed to the spring 2018 E. coli outbreak.
On February 5, 2021, FDA announced plans to soon begin collecting over the growing season approximately 500 samples of romaine lettuce from commercial coolers and cold storage facilities, which hold lettuce from multiple farms in the Yuma region, for STEC and Salmonella as part of the Agency’s ongoing surveillance efforts. By contracting with an independent laboratory located near the collection sites, FDA expects to receive test results within 24 hours from receipt of the sample by the laboratory. While not required, the industry may choose to hold the sampled lots pending notification of test results to help prevent potential recalls of any contaminated lettuce that could have entered commerce.
In similar testing conducted last year, no STEC of concern to human health and no Salmonella spp. were detected in 118 samples from the Yuma growing region. Microbiological testing of Romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is among several actions identified in FDA’s Leafy Greens Action Plan that seeks to identify potential sources and routes of contamination, inform what preventive measures are needed, and help prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness.