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Agency Recommends New Rules for Packaged Fresh-Cut Fruits and Vegetables

March 12, 2007 -- The FDA today advised the fresh-cut produce industry on ways to improve food safety from farm to table.

Fresh-cut produce are packaged, minimally processed fresh fruits and vegetables including shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, salad mixes, peeled baby carrots, broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, cut celery stalks, shredded cabbage, cut melon, sliced pineapple, and sectioned grapefruit.

The FDA's guidelines aren't binding, but the FDA hasn't ruled out the possibility of setting mandatory rules for the industry in the future, the FDA's Nega Beru, PhD, said at a news conference.

"This is a first. We haven't issued guidance for the fresh-cut industry before," said Beru, who directs the Office of Food Safety at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Many companies in the fresh-cut industry are already using practices recommended in the draft guidelines, FDA spokeswoman Julie Zawisza said at the news conference.

Spotlight on Food Safety

"The food supply in the United States remains one of the safest in the world," the FDA's David Acheson, MD, said at the news conference.

Acheson directs the Office of Food Defense, Communication and Emergency Response at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

There have been 72 food-borne illness outbreaks associated with fresh produce from 1996 to 2006, and a quarter of those outbreaks were tied to fresh-cut produce, according to the FDA.

Last year, an E. coli outbreak from fresh spinach killed three people and sickened nearly 200 others in 26 states and temporarily took fresh spinach off shelves nationwide.Obviously, recent outbreaks have raised concern about the safety of the food supply, but overall, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no indication that the total number of food-borne illnesses is actually on the increase compared to where it was a decade ago," Acheson says.

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