FDA Says Grazing Cattle Contributes to Foodborne Illness in Leafy Greens

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked growers to consider what adjacent land is being used for in order to mitigate the risks of foodborne illness, citing that foodborne illness outbreak investigations have consistently suggested that proximity to cattle has caused a recurring E. coli outbreak in leafy greens. 

Tuesday’s request was part of a press release to announce that the FDA has published its investigation report into the Fall 2020 multi-state outbreak of Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STEC), which began from contaminated leafy greens grown in California. The outbreak was announced on Oct. 28, 2020, and caused 20 hospitalizations and 40 illnesses. Preliminary reports showed that the same strain of E. coli was found in cattle feces near one of the produce farms, suggesting that proximity to cattle was a contributing factor to the outbreak. 

“Although the FDA is keenly focused on taking steps to help mitigate recurring leafy green contamination events, we alone cannot fix this issue. Industry leadership and collaboration among growers, processors, retailers, state partners and the broader agricultural community is critical to reducing foodborne illnesses,” the FDA said. 

In the press release, the FDA explained that it is updating its Leafy Greens Action Plan to help address this issue; one of the goals of the plan is “increasing awareness around adjacent land use.” Because the E. coli strain is recurring, the FDA said it should be considered a “reasonably foreseeable hazard.” It further noted that farms, which are covered through the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule, are required to participate in risk-preventative measures, which would mean that they should take preventative measures to prevent this strain from reoccurring. 

“The FDA also recommends that the agricultural community in the California Central Coast growing region work to identify where this reoccurring strain of pathogenic E. coli is persisting and the likely routes of leafy green contamination with STEC,” the FDA said, explaining that more specific recommendations are in the investigation.