FDA Publishes Investigation Report Regarding Fall 2020 E. Coli Outbreak Linked with Leafy Greens
The FDA and CDC have been investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 linked with Leafy Greens which began in October of 2020. By January 27, 2021, the FDA announced that epidemiological and traceback studies had discovered that the outbreak was linked to Leafy Greens, though the region from which these came was still undetermined. The FDA also reported that the sample analysis revealed a genetic connection between the strain of the E. coli outbreak in Fall of 2020 and that of Fall 2019 romaine lettuce outbreak.
On April 6, 2021, Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response released an official investigation report which provides comprehensive details regarding the Fall 2020 E. coli outbreak. The report outlines three key factors in the recurrent E. coli contamination of leafy greens since 2017; a reoccurring strain, reoccurring region, and reoccurring issues with activities on adjacent land. The investigation report states that the Fall 2020 E. coli outbreak was linked to Leafy Greens originating from California Central Coast, particularly in Salinas Valley and Santa Maria growing regions. The reports says this region is believed to be linked with E. coli contaminations since 2017, due to inadequate waste and drainage disposal and close geographical location to cows farms. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the outbreak strain is identical with that which was detected in a sample of cow feces collected from a farm uphill of the produce farm at which the outbreak originated. According to Yiannas, “Cattle have been repeatedly demonstrated to be a persistent source of pathogenic E. coli, including E. coli O157:H7”.
These findings draw attention to the need for produce farmers to consider the lands adjacent to their own, in particular, in regards to their drainage systems. In order to address the recurring issue of leafy greens E. coli contamination, the FDA has implemented the Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan which aims to provide an “integrated food safety system and help foster a more urgent, collaborative, and action-oriented approach between the FDA and stakeholders in the public and private sectors”.
Although the FDA and other public health departments are working diligently to mitigate the spread of E. coli through leafy greens and other food products, the consumer must take a proactive role in the prevention of its spread as well. According to America’s Food Safety Lawyers, Ron Simon and Associates, the best ways to prevent the spread of E. coli is to practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly and ensuring that your food is always cooked to the correct internal temperature.