Jan 5, 2018
Organizations release joint statement on E. coli in lettuce

A group of produce industry associations today issued the following statement to update consumers on a recent e.coli outbreak being investigated in Canada and the U.S.:

“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not identified what food likely caused this foodborne illness.  No public agency has contacted any Romaine lettuce grower, shipper or processor and requested that they either stop shipping or recall product already in the marketplace.

Even if this outbreak is actually confirmed to be caused by Romaine lettuce, it’s important to recognize this is a highly perishable product with a limited usable shelf life and it’s highly unlikely a specific affected lot would still be available for sale or in a home refrigerator with the last U.S. illness being reported on Dec. 8.

Food safety remains a top priority of leafy greens farmers, shippers and processors and the industry has robust food safety programs in place that incorporate stringent government regulatory oversight.

Our leading produce industry associations have and will continue to cooperate fully with public health officials investigating this foodborne illness outbreak.

Anytime we see an outbreak of any foodborne illness, our hearts go out to the victims.”

The statement is attributed to the following organizations:
Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement
California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement
Canadian Produce Marketing Association
Produce Marketing Association
United Fresh Produce Association
Western Growers 

Source: Scott Horsfall, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement

Ag economics professor weighs in

An E. coli outbreak has made 17 people sick in the United States, so far, including one person who died in California. A similar strain of the bacteria made 41 people sick in Canada, where that country’s government is blaming romaine lettuce.

In the U.S., where there are illnesses in 13 states, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it doesn’t have enough evidence yet to say lettuce is the source of the outbreak; but this week “Consumer Reports” urged people to stop eating romaine lettuce until a cause is identified.

According to John Bovay, an assistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Connecticut, “Some strains of E. coli bacteria produce toxins that can make us sick. When fresh fruit or vegetables become contaminated with one of these forms of E. coli, it can cause numerous illnesses all across the country because fruit and vegetables are shipped thousands of miles and are rarely cooked to a temperature that would kill E. coli.” 

While officials have yet to identify where this lettuce was grown or produced, research shows nearly half of all foodborne illnesses in the United States are tied to fresh produce.

In 2010, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed with the intent on regulating fresh produce marketed in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency in charge of FSMA, describes it as a way to “ensure U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.” Later this month, farms responsible for growing most fruits and vegetables produced in the United States will be required to comply with FSMA.

So will it work?

“I would assess this more as a band aid than a cure-all,” Bovay says. “I don’t have a lot of confidence that this is going to drastically diminish the number of illnesses.”

Bovay and a team of researchers recently had the article “Economic Effects of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act,” which takes taking an in-depth look at FSMA, published in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

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