Research – Overview of Leafy Greens–Related Food Safety Incidents with a California Link: 1996 to 2016

Journal of Food Protection Eurofins Food Testing UK

An increase in the number of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with produce has been noted in the literature, and leafy greens have been the most common produce category associated with these outbreaks. California is the largest leafy greens producer in the United States, and many related foodborne illness incidents were traced to this state. A systematic overview of leafy greens incidents linked to California was conducted by the California Department of Public Health, Food and Drug Branch through analysis of complaints, routine surveillance sampling, disease outbreaks, and investigations covering 1996 to 2016. The goal was to develop a risk assessment tool to modernize emergency response efforts to foodborne illnesses related to leafy greens. A database including environmental, epidemiologic, and laboratory information for each incident was developed, and descriptive analysis was performed to identify trends. In the 21-year period analyzed, 134 incidents were identified, the majority of which were surveillance related. Approximately 2,240 U.S. cases of confirmed illness were reported (298 California cases resulting in 50 hospitalizations). Romaine lettuce and spinach were the most commonly implicated vehicles. The most prevalent hazard type was microbiological, in particular bacterial, specifically associated with pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli. In California, the overview provided the Food and Drug Branch with a platform to (i) enhance its Food Safety Program, Emergency Response Unit, and California Food Emergency Response Team; (ii) assist in more efficient investigation, response, control, and prevention of California-linked foodborne illness incidents; and (iii) identify knowledge gaps and develop effective definitions, procedures, training, guidelines, and policies that will be used to help prevent future outbreaks. Outcomes provide insight into the situation in the largest leafy greens–producing state and may be used to prioritize limited national food safety resources and aid in future leafy greens–related research and foodborne incident investigations.

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