If you must learn from mistakes, it’s always best to learn from those of others.

Germany’s E. coli O104:H4 outbreak, which has claimed at least 27 lives and sickened nearly 2,800, serves as a stern warning to fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers to maintain their focus on whole-chain food safety and traceability.

As important as tracing the source of the product is, the outbreak underscores the importance of tracing the source of the pathogen itself.

Looking back nearly five years ago stateside, the U.S. produce industry retains clear memories of how elusive the source of E. coli in the spinach outbreak proved to be.

The source — and even type — of tainted vegetables suspected in the European outbreak remained unknown through June 9.

The initial investigation pointing to Spanish cucumbers was disproved, followed by organic sprouts, which also failed to yield a conclusive link.

Using genetics to identify the bug’s ancestor may help scientists track the origin, spread and source of the disease — while offering clues for future diagnostic tests.

Fresh produce marketers across North America have embraced a strong commitment to food safety in the past few years.

Efforts such as the Produce Traceability Initiative and groups like the Center for Produce Safety underscore the broad buy-in across all segments of the industry.

EU regulators have not conducted an open investigation, which has led to more speculation and more consumers avoiding a broader spectrum of fruits and vegetables.

Assuring the public’s trust in the safety of the food they eat must play a role in any investigation.

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