E. coli Prevention and Control in Fresh Produce from Farm-to-Fork
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a common bacterium found naturally in the digestive systems of warm blooded animals and soil and is not normally harmful. However, certain types of E. coli produce toxins, called Shiga Toxins, that are harmful. These Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, also called STEC, are significant foodborne pathogens that cause illness in approximately 265,000 people in the United States each year (Scallan, 2011). There are numerous steps along the farm-to fork continuum where growers, harvesters, shippers, and processors implement prevention and control methods to minimize risk from foodborne pathogens, with the goal of ensuring that only the safest fresh produce reaches consumers’ tables. Some of these measures are taken to comply with recent federal guidelines under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which began to be implemented by the fresh produce industry in January 2018 (FDA 2017) Table 1., but for Arizona growers, the FSMA regulations are not burdensome. Since 2007, growers of fresh produce in our state have been voluntarily following equally strict, and even more specific, guidelines developed by the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) as enforced by the Arizona Department of Agriculture (https://www.arizonaleafygreens.org). You may ask, “If guidelines are so strict and if growers are so cautious, why do people still get sick from outbreaks of E. coli and other foodborne pathogens?” This paper will provide a roadmap of how fresh produce travels from farmto- fork, identifying potential routes of contamination. We also describe the preventative controls that are implemented by the fresh produce industry at each stop to reduce the potential for microbial contamination, and how consumers can take simple steps to maintain safe foods eaten in their homes or in restaurants.