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  1. Foodborne Pathogens

2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan

collage of three photos showing various types of leafy greens growing in fields, including a tractor, soil, and an irrigation pipe with a sprinkler

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November 2020 Status Update

While the year 2020 appears in the name of this action plan, our efforts will continue into 2021 and beyond. The FDA continues to make progress conducting research to fill knowledge gaps and inform science and risk based preventive measures, while also continuing to monitor the entire leafy greens supply chain to help ensure consumer safety.

Actions as of November 2020

The FDA has an unwavering commitment to advancing the safety of fresh leafy greens. Leafy greens are among the most widely consumed vegetables and an important part of an overall healthy diet. While millions of servings are consumed safely every day, this produce commodity has been implicated too often in outbreaks of foodborne illness, and we believe that FDA, along with leafy greens sector stakeholders, can do more.

Between 2009 and 2018, FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified 40 foodborne outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections in the U.S. with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, STEC can cause bloody diarrhea, anemia, blood-clotting problems, and kidney failure – conditions that are potentially life-threatening. The most common STEC, E. coli O157:H7, is the type most often associated with outbreaks.

Most leafy greens are grown outdoors, where they are exposed to soil, animals, and water, all of which can be a source of pathogen contamination. In addition, leafy greens are mostly consumed raw, without cooking or other processing steps to eliminate microbial hazards. The Produce Safety Rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) sets science-based standards to help ensure that water, soil amendments (e.g., fertilizer or compost), food contact surfaces and other materials that touch produce during growing, harvesting, packing, and holding do not contribute to produce contamination. The Produce Safety Rule also addresses animal intrusion into fields and worker hygiene.

Due to the reoccurring nature of outbreaks associated with leafy greens, FDA has developed this commodity-specific action plan. What follows is an overview of the actions FDA plans to take in 2020 to advance work in three areas: (1) prevention, (2) response, and (3) addressing knowledge gaps.

Expediting the improved safety of leafy greens will require collaboration between FDA and stakeholders in the public and private sectors, including industry and our regulatory partners. This plan is designed to help foster a more urgent, collaborative, and action-oriented approach.

For additional inquiries, please email: Leafy-Greens-Action-Plan@fda.hhs.gov

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