December 28, 2020

FDA Announces E. Coli Study

FDA Announces E. Coli Study

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a multi-year study to investigate the ecology of human pathogens in the environment that cause foodborne illnesses, in hopes of advancing food safety. The FDA has partnered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the University of California-Davis (UC Davis), the Western Center for Food Safety (WCFS), and agricultural stakeholders in the Central Coast of California on this project. The California Central Coast region grows a substantial percentage of the nation’s leafy greens.

In the last few years, multiple outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 have occurred due to California’s lettuce production. In the most recent outbreak of fall 2019, 188 people fell ill. The FDA launched an investigation due to the outbreak, and the results were published in May 2020. Additionally, the FDA published the 2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan to address issues associated with leafy green Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) contamination. A significant element of the action plan is the need to address gaps in knowledge to advance the prevention of foodborne illnesses.

This new analysis is included in the action plan, in addition to the Yuma Agricultural Region Environmental Microbiology Study currently ongoing in Arizona. The findings from this study will contribute new knowledge on how assorted environmental factors may influence bacterial persistence and distribution in this region, and how those factors may impact the risk of leafy greens becoming contaminated. 

The multi-year study will work with water quality, food safety, and agriculture expert from the Western Center for Food Safety, representatives from various agriculture industries, and members of the leafy greens industry to investigate how pathogens survive and move through the environment, possibly contaminating produce. Researchers will collect and examine samples of adjacent land, wells, surface water, soil inputs that include compost, dust, and animal fecal samples to perform the experiments. Results from this collaborative study will lead to enhanced protocols to prevent and alleviate food safety risks and improve the safety of leafy greens grown in California.