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Agencies to inspect local lettuce for E. coli

In an unprecedented effort to monitor the Salinas Valley lettuce industry, federal regulators announced Thursday they will inspect local fields, coolers and packing plants starting Monday, reports the Monterey Herald.

The inspections are part of a multi-year Food and Drug Administration safety initiative created to tackle reoccurring E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks connected to leafy greens in recent years. It is the only lettuce-growing area in the country to be inspected.

Joining FDA representatives during the field and plant visits in Monterey County will be inspectors from the California Department of Health Services and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

A team of three inspectors from each agency will call growers and processors before they arrive, giving them a chance to alert their key food safety employees, who will show the regulators around their fields and inside their facilities. The growers, harvesters and packers also will fill out questionnaires detailing their practices.

Prior to these new inspections, the FDA has only inspected local processing plants on surprise visits.

While the source of the E. coli bacteria has remained elusive, more than 400 people have been sickened and two people have died after eating contaminated products since 1995, according to the FDA.

FDA officials told local growers and agricultural trade representatives about the coming inspections at a food safety summit in Salinas on Thursday. The meeting was closed to the media.

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