The FDA introduced guidelines for fresh-cut produce processing today, in the hopes of reducing incidents of contamination. From CNNMoney:
The FDA noted fresh-cut or prepackaged produce like spinach, lettuce and fruit is the fastest-growing segment of the $12 billion annual produce industry.
In the past 10 years, the FDA said there’s been 72 outbreaks of food-borne illnesses from contamination with bacteria such as E.coli. Since last summer, there’s been high-profile illness outbreaks associated with fresh spinach and with shredded lettuce at Taco Bell and Taco John’s restaurants. Taco Bell is a unit of Yum Brands Inc. (YUM).
The agency said processing produce into fresh-cut product increases the risk of bacterial contamination and growth by breaking the natural exterior barrier of the produce by peeling, slicing, coring, or trimming the produce before it’s packed for consumer use. The increased risk remains even if the produce is washed before packaging.
The FDA said that about half of US fresh-cut produce processing plants did not have guidelines in place. According the the FDA, “consumers can reduce their risk of illness from fresh-cut produce by following safe handling practices such as refrigerating the product after purchase, and using clean hands and utensils to handle the product as well and eating or discarding the product by the “use by” date. And, of course, you could always cut your own lettuce…doesn’t it look yummy?—MEGHANN MARCO