The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated its lettuce sampling protocols for the Salinas Valley. FDA has been in the process of collecting and testing lettuce grown in the area and will continue until the end of harvest in November. The updates to the FY21 Lettuce Sampling assignment include adjustments to the testing approach as well as notification protocols. California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) CEO Tim York said the changes are welcome news for the industry. One particularly important change is the prenotification of testing that is now being provided by FDA.
“What you don’t want to do is have product that is already on trucks or even distributed within retail or food service and then find out that a test is being conducted because we have a ‘test-and-hold’ procedure,” York explained. “You don’t want to move product into commerce if you haven’t gotten the final test results, otherwise you’re potentially instituting a recall and trying to pull all that product back. That’s obviously disruptive to the industry, it’s expensive, and of course, it’s disruptive to our customers.”
Another significant change to the lettuce sampling process addresses the testing procedure itself. FDA will be narrowing its testing parameters to only be looking for one strain of salmonella and one strain of E. coli. FDA has previously been testing for the full range of Shiga toxin-producing E.coli. LGMA believes that the updated testing measures will help speed up the process and limit disruption.
“It will reduce the number of false positives that they’re potentially getting, they refer to it as ‘Cannot Rule Out,’ which means they might have a positive and they need to do further investigation on it,” said York. “That takes several days up to a week. So that’s potentially a product that is not going to be harvested or put into commerce.”