U.S – As part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) New Era of Smarter Food Safety’s Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan, the regulator has launched two new food safety prevention techniques to stop outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.

The strategies aim to prevent outbreaks of foodborne listeriosis and salmonellosis linked to imported enoki and wood ear mushrooms as well as salmonellosis linked to bulb onions.

Moreover, FDA is collaborating with business, government, and other partners to create a number of additional food safety prevention initiatives, which will be made public as they become available.

The prevention measures are based on the knowledge gained from research done following an outbreak of a foodborne illness.

According to FDA, the prevention tactics represent an active, deliberate effort made by the agency and pertinent parties to help contain or prevent upcoming outbreaks, much like the strategy used as part of the Leafy Green STEC Action Plan (LGAP).

The strategies look at commodity-hazard combinations, potential sources and pathways of contamination, and what may be done to lower foodborne illness occurrences in the future.

They also point out knowledge gaps that need to be filled and areas that need to be prioritized in order to encourage collaborations for public health protection and outbreak prevention among external stakeholders.

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local partners, and the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network looked into a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to the consumption of enoki mushrooms imported from the Republic of Korea (ROK).

The outbreak led to 31 hospital admissions and four fatalities.

Enoki mushrooms are a popular cuisine in China, Japan and Korea characterized with a mild flavor and crunchy texture.

Additionally in 2020, CORE, CDC, and state and local partners looked into a multistate Salmonella Stanley epidemic that was connected to the eating of imported Chinese wood ear mushrooms.

Six persons were admitted to hospitals, and a total of 55 salmonellosis cases were documented in 12 states.

Wood ear mushrooms (also known as jelly ears), are known for their crunchy texture and ability to soak in flavors.

Some of the measures the FDA has come up with include ensuring that exporting firms and competent authorities are aware of the applicable Produce Safety Rule requirements for specialty mushrooms, and the potential cultural differences associated with consumption of raw specialty mushrooms.  

It will also engage food safety authorities in ROK, China, Canada, and Japan to better understand the potential sources of contamination in enoki and wood ear mushrooms and what producers are doing to prevent contamination of these mushrooms.   

Another strategy involves conducting research to better understand how L. monocytogenes contaminates enoki mushrooms and understand the survival of L. monocytogenes and Salmonella on enoki mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms.

The agency will also work with industry to ensure that international specialty mushroom producers have access to training intended to help them meet requirements for ensuring the safe production of mushrooms for import into the U.S.

Prevention strategy for salmonellosis associated with bulb onions

More than 2,100 confirmed instances of foodborne illness in the United States were caused by Salmonella outbreaks linked to the consumption of bulb onions grown in the United States and Mexico in 2020 and 2021, according to the FDA.

The FDA intends to engage domestic and foreign industry and government partners to promote a broad understanding of the outbreak investigation findings, applicable Produce Safety Rule requirements, and the importance of root-cause analysis after outbreaks.

It will also prioritize inspections of bulb onion farms in the U.S. and Mexico that are covered by the FDA’s Produce Safety Rule, besides identifying and assessing practices and conditions associated with onion curing.   

In addition, it will support research efforts to better understand bulb onion production practices, including the impact of different soil conditions and curing practices on the safety of bulb onions.

Further, the FDA will continue to collaborate with Mexican competent authorities through the established Food Safety Partnership to help ensure the safe production of bulb onions in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico.

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