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June 13, 2019

FDA Says Yuma, Imperial Cooler Sampling Found No E. coli, Salmonella Strains in Romaine

IEG Policy/Food Chemical News recently reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found no strains of E. coli or Salmonella in a recent commercial cooler sampling assignment that targeted romaine lettuce in the Yuma, Arizona and Imperial Valley region in California.

The findings were revealed in a letter that FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas sent to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Though the full sampling study has yet to be released, Yiannas said that the FDA is working “expeditiously” to finalize and make public the other findings of the sampling assignment.

Yiannas’ letter also provided updates on produce safety and FSMA implementation, which includes routine inspections under the Produce Safety Rule and continually working to clarify requirements of FSMA. He said that FDA most recently issued a rule to extend compliance dates for the Produce Safety Rule’s agricultural water provisions and announced it plans to exercise enforcement discretion for the Produce Safety Rule requirements for entities growing, harvesting, packing and holding wine grapes, pulse crops and almonds.

The letter also highlighted FDA’s latest action in response to the E. coli outbreaks in romaine lettuce last year. In addition to encouraging the leafy greens industry to adopt real-time traceability, Yiannas said that FDA has been working closely with the produce industry’s Romaine Task Force – a collaboration of growers, industry, trade associations (including Western Growers), advocacy groups, academia and regulatory officials – to identify steps to minimize the risks of pathogen contamination.

The agency’s cooler sampling assignment, which started at the beginning of the year, was also part of the effort to find solutions.

“We collected romaine lettuce samples at commercial coolers in the Yuma, Arizona, and Imperial Valley, California, growing regions through April 2019,” said Yiannas. “A total of 120 samples were collected, with each sample containing 10 subsets for a total of 1,200 assays.”

FDA chose to collect samples at coolers because “we can efficiently collect samples from multiple farms at one location while maintaining the identity of the farms that corresponds to each sample,” said then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in February before he left the agency.