Lettuce is overrated: FDA’s leafy greens STEC action

I’ll say it again, as a comic in all seriousness: Lettuce is overrated.

My favorite salad is a Greek one with all those veggies and no lettuce.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last week that between 2009 and 2018, FDA and the 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.

Holy shit.

This is why The Tragically Hip were so great, and why they never appealed much beyond Canada.

I feel the same about academia.

And why Osterholm called me 15 years ago as a consultant for Fresh Express, and asked me how dare I the lettuce and skull picture, and I said because I can and it was fairly apt given there have been 40 outbreaks.

Holy shit (this is me echoing my John Oliver voice).

Coronavirus is just confirming: Go public, go often, go hard.

It’s the only way people will pay attention.

And as this story in the N.Y. Times points out, there have been spectacular public health failures by people who tell others, just shut the fuck up.

According to the FDA, it 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 recurring 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.