While romaine lettuce production has slowed down for the season in Arizona, the leafy green industry is working diligently with federal agencies to gather accurate information on the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.
“We are concerned about the impact to the country and especially for those who have suffered from this outbreak,” said Arizona Leafy Greens Food Safety Committee Administrator Teressa Lopez. “As with every food safety related issue, our commitment to improve our food safety practices is unwavering.”
The majority of production of romaine lettuce has shifted to California, as this is the typical transition time between the Arizona and California growing regions. A small amount of product is also coming from Florida and Mexico.
Members of Arizona and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements (LGMAs) represent 94.7 percent of U.S. lettuce production and more than 4 billion pounds of romaine consumed annually. The organizations have worked collaboratively over the past decade to develop a comprehensive food safety program that consists of uniform food safety practices and regular monitoring by USDA auditors. Nearly all of the shippers involved in leafy greens production in Arizona and California are members of both organizations.
The leafy greens industry, along with other industry partners, have been in close communication with the Arizona Department of Agriculture, the Arizona Department of Health Services, the CDC, and the FDA as they conduct their investigation. In fact, it is because of the traceability, record-keeping, and participation of leafy greens members that the agencies were able to pinpoint the outbreak to the Yuma region.
“Our program remains nimble every year, standing ready to address new potential intrusions and threats to food safety,” Lopez said. “Outbreaks like this can have rippling effects, first affecting those who become ill as well as those who are intimately involved in the industry. This is why this committed group of shippers voluntarily organized in the first place, so we can mobilize, act quickly and improve our processes to minimize future occurrences.”