In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched the 2004 FDA Produce Safety Action Plan, which is intended to minimize the incidence of foodborne illness associated with consumption of fresh produce. In 2006, FDA, in collaboration with the State of California's Departments of Public Health and Food and Agriculture, began a multi-year Initiative as part of a risk-based strategy intended to reduce public health risks by heightening the focus on preventive food safety efforts (e.g., in advance of an outbreak) on specific products, practices, agents, and growing areas of greatest concern. The first year of the Initiative focused on lettuce (see Lettuce Safety Initiative) as a response to recurring outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 associated with fresh and fresh-cut lettuce.
FDA and the California Department of Public Health are continuing these efforts in 2007 with a focus on a broader range of leafy greens, including spinach, building upon lessons learned in the first year, subsequent outbreak investigations, and our 2007 Tomato Safety Initiative which is underway in Virginia and Florida.
Beginning in October 2007, FDA investigators, in coordination with their respective state counterparts, and with the cooperation of the industry, will visit farms in California to assess the prevalence of factors in and near the field environment which may contribute to potential contamination of leafy greens with E. coli O157:H7 and the extent to which Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and other preventive controls are being implemented. To further focus this risk-based approach, collaborators have been reviewing data to identify areas where co-existing environmental risk factors are present. Data analyses and GIS mapping will be followed by preliminary assessments to confirm the data analyses and to finalize site selection for the field assessment.
Other components of the initiative include:
- Continuing outreach with the industry at all points in the supply chain,
- Communicating early and often in the event of an outbreak or recall, and
- Continuing to build and strengthen collaborative relationships with federal, state and local public health officials in disease prevention, detection, and outbreak response.
By identifying practices and conditions that can lead to product contamination, FDA and our safety partners can improve guidance and policies intended to minimize chances of future disease outbreaks, as well as ascertain future produce-safety research, education and outreach needs. The high degree of collaboration and cooperation in both the Leafy Greens and Tomato Safety Initiatives will play a significant role in allowing these initiatives to achieve their goals. The findings of the 2007 Leafy Greens Safety Initiative will be shared publicly upon completion of the effort, to allow state officials and members of the industry to maximize their food safety efforts.