File photo ( Courtesy of Sara Schafer )

While the partial government shutdown may have slowed Food and Drug Administration resources investigating the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, the industry has not set the issue aside.

A romaine task force was organized by the industry in December to help prevent future outbreaks, said Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association.

The task force has representation from all types of growing operations from different growing regions, she said.

One primary focus of the task force is preventing outbreaks by looking at root cause analysis, she said.

“When you do get a positive, even a pre-harvest environment or maybe later through the supply chain, how do you actually figure out why that happened to be able to put some preventive measures in place?” she said.

Another focus of the task force is traceability, or the ability to connect the dots quickly in the supply chain, she said.

The task force also aims explore how the industry could better collaborate with health officials in the investigative process to help resolve investigations more quickly and limit the scope of advisories.

The task force, inclusive of national and regional produce associations, has no deadline for reporting its results, she said. 

The group is very focused on working on the issues and eventually making recommendations, McEntire said. P