A study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases published by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday examines E. coli outbreaks linked to leafy greens in the United States and Canada from 2009 to 2018. Professors of food safety at Cornell University, Martin Wiedmann and Randy Worobo, who were not involved with the study, are available for interviews on the report.
Martin Wiedmann, professor of food safety, says while the industry continues to develop improved strategies for identifying E. coli outbreaks, the current detection systems in the U.S. and Canada are exceptionally sophisticated.
“Key findings from the study are generally consistent with previous reports but do draw further attention to the necessary complexities of our food systems, and the challenges with identifying the true root causes of contamination events and outbreaks.
“My concern is that readers will now interpret leafy greens and romaine being unsafe. When you compare the findings in the context that about 8 billion pounds of leafy greens are consumed annually in the U.S. alone, this clearly indicates that the risk of getting sick from leafy greens is very low. However, continuous improvement is needed, and the industry is actively working with regulatory agencies and academia to develop improved strategies to prevent contamination.
“It's important to understand the number of outbreaks detected actually is, to a certain extent, good news – it shows we have an effective public health system that detects outbreaks. The current outbreak detection systems in the U.S. and Canada are exceptionally sophisticated, using a DNA fingerprinting method, which allows for very effective detection of small outbreaks, which help to limit the scope and number of cases that are parts of outbreaks.”
Randy Worobo, professor of food safety, stresses leafy greens are an essential part of a healthy diet and avoiding consumption due to a very low risk of foodborne illness may negatively impact overall health.