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Produce Industry Responds

Packaged salad products exploded onto the market in the early 1990s and in less than two decades sales have climbed to almost $3 billion a year.

The produce industry responded to the article in Consumer Reports by stressing that the bacteria found by the investigators posed no risk to the public.

"Consumer Union found only harmless, naturally occurring bacteria, for which no detection standards have been established by the federal government," reads a joint written statement from the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.

The trade groups also called on Congress to pass comprehensive food safety reform and adequately fund the FDA to ensure the agency can "fulfill its mission to safeguard consumers."

"The produce industry is committed to providing safe and healthy foods, every bite, every time," the statement reads. "Our growers are often the first to eat the foods we sell, and they understand the importance of maintaining consumer confidence. The industry has already invested tens of millions of dollars in food safety programs, and related research."

A spokesman for Chiquita Brands, which markets the Fresh Express line of packaged salads, also emphasizes that the bacteria found in the investigation are considered harmless to humans.

“Experts, such as the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods, do not consider the presence of coliforms as an accurate indicator of a health concern in fresh produce,” Chiquita Director of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications  Ed Loyd tells WebMD in a written statement. “Specifically, the publication fully acknowledged that no pathogens were present in any of the salad samples.”

Loyd writes that Chiquita’s food safety practices exceed industry standards and government guidelines.

The Senate is considering a food safety reform bill that would require the FDA to develop safety standards for the growing and processing of fresh produce. The reform would also require the agency to declare acceptable levels of specific bacteria in packaged products.

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