April 5, 2019

Romaine Task Force outlines goals, seeks input

The Romaine Task Force and its four working groups met in Dallas in February to review progress and work together in-person to build on that progress. The task force is comprised of more than 100 industry leaders, regulatory professionals and academic scientists.

The four working groups — Science & Prevention, Provenance Labeling, Traceability and Investigations — met to advance their thinking and present recommendations to the steering committee. The full report summarizes the status of each work group, recommendations and next steps.

Stakeholder comments on the recommendations are requested by April 12, 2019. Email [email protected] to provide comment.

Executive Summary

Following presentations by each of the four working groups, the Steering Committee discussed recommendations from each group and prioritized work goals. They agreed upon the following:

Science/ Prevention Group Recommendations

  • Support current efforts to develop a science and risk-based model for evaluating and managing agricultural water, based on the source of water and its use.
  • Develop guidance for produce industry-specific root cause analysis to assist growers, processors, regulators and other stakeholders in assessing the cause of a pathogen in the event of positive environmental or product samples.
  • Explore ways to provide more in-depth auditing of validation and verification procedures.
  • Work with FDA Produce Safety team to relay FDA’s research priorities to the Center for Produce Safety for consideration.

Traceability Group Recommendations

  • Embrace a bold vision for traceability that can capture, retain and link information through the supply chain.
  • Support use of the language of PTI and urge PTI labeling of all cases/packs of leafy green products.
  • Develop systems and approaches that identify and narrow the scope of possible lots/suppliers of leafy greens at any given retail or foodservice establishment at any given time, and retain that information for immediate use in a traceback investigation.
  • Gather feedback from FDA to refine a template industry can use to standardize the way traceback data are shared.

Labeling Group Recommendations

  • Articulate that the mission is to provide consumers easy access to information about growing regions associated with romaine products.
  • Publish and disseminate a revised Labeling Q&A that provides guidance on how to label consumer packaging of romaine to include standardized terminology for growing regions.
  • For bulk, unpackaged product, or product destined for foodservice use, operations should refer to information on cases to determine if a product is subject to an advisory.
  • The vision is that this is an interim step until better traceback mechanisms are in place.

Investigation Group Recommendations

  • Engage FDA/CDC leadership to evaluate legal options to facilitate government/industry collaboration to accelerate and narrow outbreak investigations.
  • Evaluate needs and opportunities for increased funding to FDA, CDC and states to accelerate and narrow outbreak investigations.
  • Work with CDC and states to ensure the most current population consumption data of fresh produce items is used in epidemiological investigations.
  • Consider potential value/methodology of a voluntary blinded industry database of pathogen testing (environmental, raw product, finished product) which could enhance knowledge and inform prevention strategies.
  • Determine the value of trialing a voluntary database of harvest dates and shipping information that would support a rapid “trace-forward” in the event of an outbreak.

Download the full report, including appendices, to review the vision, recommendations and timelines for each working group. Again, stakeholder comments on the recommendations are requested by April 12, 2019. Please email [email protected] to provide comment.