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After a 2018 E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce hospitalized more than 100 people and killed five, the US Food and Drug Administration put together an action plan to reduce E. coli contamination in leafy greens.

The FDA’s 2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan identified potential ways to reduce contamination. STEC is short for “shiga toxin-producing E. coli,” a group of E. coli strains that can cause bloody diarrhea, anemia, blood-clotting problems and kidney failure.

The plan pointed to 28 action items, including implementing better water management, increasing the distance between farms and large livestock operations, prioritizing inspections and sampling of leafy greens, and improving tracking and documentation of batches of greens. In November 2020, the FDA published an update, stating that the agency had already taken action on many of the items listed in the plan. 

The agency is now using a new protocol for testing agricultural water for contaminants and working to increase the traceability of outbreaks by better labeling and documenting individual batches of products. Additionally, the FDA has worked with the government of California, the biggest producer of leafy greens in the US, to update harvesting standards and increase product sampling. 

“While the year 2020 appears in the name of this action plan, our efforts will continue into 2021 and beyond,” the status update says.