( Photo courtesy Brando Makes Branding )

Food safety issues, particularly E. coli outbreaks, continued to disrupt the industry in 2019, even as the Food and Drug Administration announced
a New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative in an effort to improve practices and traceability.

As 2019 ended, the industry continued to seek answers in three outbreaks linked to Salinas, Calif., romaine. The largest outbreak, with 138 cases
in late December, led to an FDA advisory on Salinas days before Thanksgiving — bringing to mind the FDA’s 2018 romaine purge before the holiday.

Three E. coli outbreaks have a Salinas grower in common
By Chris Koger

Traceback investigations into three concurrent E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce from the Salinas, Calif., area, has led to one common grower.

The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are investigating several Salinas area ranches used by the grower, according to a Dec. 12 update from the FDA on the E. coli outbreaks. 

Nov. 24
FDA: Do not eat Salinas romaine
By Chris Koger

As the number of E. coli cases linked to romaine has risen to 40, federal health and regulatory officials are warning consumers not to eat romaine lettuce originating from Salinas, Calif., and the Food and Drug Administration has asked the industry to stop shipments from there.

The FDA issued a similar advisory before Thanksgiving 2018 covering all romaine, but the current warning involves only product grown in Salinas, and products included in a Nov. 21 recall by Missa Bay.

Nov. 1
FDA: No ‘actionable information’ in E. coli outbreak
By Chris Koger

A recent E. coli outbreak “likely associated with romaine lettuce” has come to light, with the FDA announcing there was no actionable information to alert consumers.

The outbreak, in which 23 people became sick from E. coli, appears to be over, and the FDA’s “active investigation has reached its end,” according to the agency’s Oct. 31 notice.

Oct. 3
Romaine Task Force calls for action
By Chris Koger

The final report from the Romaine Task Force, convened in the wake of several outbreaks traced to the lettuce, is far from the final say in the matter, with some recommendations for action as soon as December.

The task force has outlined steps growers should take, many of them focused on water testing and irrigation. The report also focuses on traceability and the need to improve technology, an issue key to the Food and Drug Administration’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety campaign.

July 12
FDA, papaya company discuss recall, disagree on evidence
By Chris Koger

Despite requests from the Food and Drug Administration, the distributor of Mexican papayas named by the agency in an outbreak of salmonella has declined so far to issue a recall.

The FDA’s New York division contacted Agroson’s LLC, Bronx, N.Y., on July 3 about results of an investigation of Salmonella Uganda, which had sickened 71 people.

May 1
FDA calls for New Era of Smarter Food Safety
By Chris Koger

The Food and Drug Administration is ushering in what it calls a New Era of Smarter Food Safety, with a focus on technology to trace the origin of fresh produce and other foods when there’s a recall or pathogen outbreak.

The FDA announced the plan April 30, and is developing a “blueprint” to help the industry meet the agency’s goals. The blueprint will focus on traceability, digital technologies and evolving food business models.

Jan. 11
FDA seeks more inspections during shutdown
By Chris Koger

The FDA has stopped routine inspections of produce and other food facilities because of the partial government shutdown, but Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says plans are underway to somewhat remedy that by mid-January.

Inspections of imported food continues, and recall and outbreak investigations, including the E. coli outbreak that sickened 62 people in the U.S., are also ongoing.