Robert E. Brackett, Ph.D., recently participated in a panel before the US Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Brackett, who is the director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, pointed out that ready-to-eat fresh vegetables, fruits, and prepared salads have a high potential risk of contamination because they are generally grown in a natural environment and are often consumed without cooking or other treatments that could eliminate pathogens if they are present.

He went on to explain FDA’s role in food safety, discuss FDA’s response to the recent E. coli outbreak and the ongoing investigation, describe some of the specific efforts that FDA is taking to enhance the safety of fresh produce to prevent future outbreaks, and reviewed some of the next steps that FDA plans to take to work with food safety partners to improve the safety of ready-to-eat foods.

Among the steps Brackett outlined were:

  • The development of a plan to minimize the risk of another outbreak in all leafy greens, including lettuce.
  • An examination of whether improvements in the following four areas could help prevent or contain future outbreaks: 1) strategies to prevent contamination; 2) ways to minimize the health impact after an occurrence; 3) ways to improve communication; and 4) specific research.
  • Putting on a series of meetings with industry groups to discuss ways to improve the safety of fresh produce.
  • Consideration of whether additional guidance and/or additional regulations for the produce industry are necessary.
  • Increasing research on analytical technologies that enable faster detection of foodborne pathogens and better intervention strategies.
  • Studying possible intervention strategies, such as use of thermal treatment and irradiation, which could be applied to fresh produce products to reduce the level of bacteria and viruses that are in or on the product.
  • Working with universities, industry, and state governments to develop both risk-based microbiological research programs and technology transfer programs to ensure that the latest food technology reaches the appropriate end users along the supply chain.