As part of ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of leafy greens, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will collect and test samples of lettuce grown in California’s Salinas Valley from local commercial coolers from May through November 2021. The agency will test the samples for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), including E. coli O157:H7, and Salmonella spp. as part of ongoing surveillance efforts following reoccurring outbreaks linked to this region, including most recently in the fall of 2020.

The FDA assignment will direct sampling to be conducted at commercial cooling and cold storage facilities where field heat is removed from harvested lettuce and where product is cold-stored before processing, the agency said in a May 11 release. Sampling may include pre-cooled product (preferred) or post-cooled product. Sample collection at commercial coolers helps the FDA efficiently obtain samples from multiple farms at centralized locations and facilitates prompt traceback and follow-up if contamination is detected.

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The agency plans to collect and test a total of approximately 500 post-harvest samples of iceberg, leaf and romaine lettuce. Each sample will consist of 10 subsamples, each made up of one head of lettuce or in the case of romaine lettuce, loose leaves or one package of hearts.  FDA laboratories will conduct all testing.

The agency said FDA investigators will preannounce their visits to firms per the Agency’s COVID-19 safety practices. They will be outfitted with personal protective equipment (PPE) and will carry out their work while adhering to local, state and applicable CDC guidance.

The agency said their testing plans add to actions already underway including implementation of the recently updated Leafy Greens Action Plan and a multi-year longitudinal study to assess the environmental factors impacting the presence of foodborne pathogens in the region.

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