The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a new initiative to better understand the ecology of human pathogens in the environment in the Yuma agricultural region. The initiative – which will focus on how pathogens survive, move and possibly contaminate produce prior to harvest – will be implemented with support from the Arizona Department of Agriculture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District and members of the Yuma area leafy greens industry.
The creation of this initiative was prompted largely in part by the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2018, which resulted in 210 reported illnesses from 36 states, 96 hospitalizations, 27 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome and five deaths. The outbreak was linked to romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma region.
While the FDA narrowed the scope of the outbreak, many questions remain unanswered regarding the specific origin of the pathogen, the environmental distribution and potential reservoirs for the outbreak strain. Findings from FDA’s previous assessments made clear that further collaboration among leafy greens stakeholders and FDA is needed to better understand potential sources of microbial contamination, the prevalence and persistence of human pathogens in the ecosystem near growing areas and the best management practices to prevent future outbreaks from occurring.
Throughout this multi-year initiative, research teams will be collecting and examining samples from the environment such as surface waters, canal sediment and dust. They will also be gathering scat samples to assess the impact that animal intrusion and native wildlife may have on the growing environment. The findings from this study will contribute new knowledge on how various environmental factors may influence bacterial persistence and distribution in this region, and how those factors may impact the risk of this commodity becoming contaminated. Results from this collaboration will lead to improved practices to prevent or mitigate food safety risks, and ultimately enhance the safety of produce grown in the region.
For more information, click here to read the official announcement.
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