The Romaine Task Force is seeking input on a list of recommendations concerning outbreak prevention, traceability, product labeling and outbreak investigations.
The group, a collaboration of produce industry, government agencies and other groups, was formed after three recent E. coli outbreaks traced to romaine and leafy greens, although its efforts apply to all produce. The group met in Dallas Feb. 13-14 to discuss the recommendations.
The summary of the group’s recommendations and updated question-and-answers on labeling and traceability, are available on the Produce Marketing Association’s and United Fresh Produce Association’s websites.
The task force’s areas of interest, and recommendations, are:
- Science/Prevention — Support development of a science- and risk-based model for evaluating and managing agricultural water, based on the source of water and its use. Develop guidance to help assess the cause of a pathogen in the event of positive test samples.
- Traceability — Develop ways to identify possible lots/suppliers of leafy greens at retail/foodservice establishments for immediate traceback. Urge Produce Traceability Labeling on all products. Gather Food and Drug Administration feedback to standardize the way traceback data are shared.
- Labeling — Provide industry guidance on how to label romaine packaging with standardized terminology for growing regions. Recommend that buyers of bulk/unpackaged products/foodservice packs refer to information on cases to determine if they are subject to an advisory.
- Investigation — Work with the FDA/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate legal options for industry/government collaboration during investigations. Evaluate opportunities for funding to FDA/CDC and states during outbreak investigations. Consider a database of pathogen testing to enhance knowledge and add to prevention strategies. Consider a database of harvest dates/shipping information for a rapid “trace-forward” during investigations.
The questions concerning the labeling of packaging will be completed in the “near term,” according to an article written by Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh, and Cathy Burns, PMA CEO.
“As each effort progresses, additional stakeholders and subject matter experts will be solicited so that the approaches are science- and risk-based as well as practical,” according to the article. “Change is already underway within the industry, with more to come. We look forward to your feedback, participation, and dedication to improving produce safety.”
The task force is asking for comments by April 12, e-mailed to [email protected].