(April 14, STAFF EDITORIAL) Here we go again.

In October, fresh produce got a bad rap in a listeria-related incident at a North Carolina retailer. Greensboro-based The Fresh Market Inc. blamed lettuce for listeria found in its deli sandwiches, even though a Florida state inspector found no proof lettuce was to blame.

Now, it’s the Food and Drug Administration’s turn to pile on (See Story, Page A3, in The Packer’s April 14 print or digital editions).

The FDA’s recently released guidelines on methods for controlling listeria recommend that all frozen and refrigerated foods that “may” contain listeria be tested for the bacteria.

While that may be a reasonable course of action for producers of some processed foods, it’s not for purveyors of fresh-cut produce, said David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

In comments submitted to the FDA, Gombas points out that testing for listeria takes from two to seven days — no problem for some processed items, but a big problem for shelf-life-challenged fresh produce.

He correctly points out that a “one size fits all” approach just doesn’t make sense.

Gombas also argues that produce’s track record with listeria doesn’t warrant testing based on the standard that a food merely “may” be contaminated.

To United Fresh’s knowledge, there is no evidence listeria is found in fresh fruits and vegetables on anything other than a rare basis. The government’s own 2003 statistics showed no food-safety outbreaks linking listeria and fresh vegetables since 1979, Gombas said.

While the new FDA guidelines on listeria are only recommendations, they would essentially have the force of mandates if retailers require suppliers to follow them.

In the wake of the Taco Bell green onion fiasco, the produce industry must be more vigilant than ever in defending itself against unfair treatment when it comes to food safety.

The new FDA listeria guidelines are yet another reason why.