Industry commits to using incident as opportunity to strengthen food safety program
PHOENIX (April 27, 2018) – As the CDC and FDA continue their investigation into possible sources of a strain of E. coli O157:H7 linked to romaine, the paper trail that led to identifying one potential source – of illnesses in the Alaska cluster – is part of an intricate food safety process developed over the past 10 years, which is designed to minimize the risk of these types of incidents.
“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers continue to be with those impacted by this incident,” said Arizona Leafy Greens Food Safety Committee Administrator Teressa Lopez. “Every increase in the case count is a stark reminder of the size and scope of our reach. It’s not just one of our members, it’s every field worker, manager, farmer, harvester and shipper, among others. Every time the CDC updates its numbers, we feel it. The entire Yuma community feels it.”
The romaine harvest has ceased in the Yuma growing region, and the tightly networked community that comprises the Arizona Leafy Greens Food Safety Committee is committed to using this incident to further strengthen the program as it looks to the next growing season.
“The vegetables our farmers grow, our harvesters pick and our shippers package are ultimately consumed by the entire country, and of course our own families,” Lopez said. “We are all impacted. We take food safety very seriously, and each incident gives us more data to analyze to refine and reinforce our metrics and our practices.”
Over the past two weeks the leafy greens industry has closely communicated with the Arizona Department of Agriculture, the Arizona Department of Health Services, the CDC and the FDA as they conducted their investigation, leading to whole romaine heads identified in the Alaska cluster of illnesses traced to one grower. The grower is active and engaged in the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, and highly regarded for their compliance with food safety practices.
“Our food safety protocol is strong, but it’s impossible to be completely infallible with the vast number of environmental variables at play,” Lopez said. “Our primary intent is to minimize risk and protect consumers, and the members of our organization remain absolutely committed to that.”