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Officials narrow source of E. coli outbreak

Albany Herald - 12/15/2018

Dec. 15--ATLANTA -- The FDA, along with the CDC and state and local agencies, is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to romaine lettuce grown in California this fall. The Public Health Agency of Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency are also coordinating with U.S. agencies as they investigate a similar outbreak in Canada.

The FDA further refined the traceback investigation down to the farm level this week, which narrows the list of romaine growing areas that FDA recommends consumers and retailers avoid to the following California counties: Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara.

San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties in California have been removed from the list at this time. Other growing areas -- for example Florida, Mexico and the desert growing regions near Yuma and Imperial and Riverside counties, do not appear to be related to the current outbreak.

Investigation teams from FDA's Produce Safety Network, California Department of Public Health, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the CDC analyzed romaine lettuce, soil, water, sediment and animal dropping samples at farms identified by the traceback investigation. Most of these samples tested negative for the outbreak strain, with some samples still undergoing analysis.

However, the strain of E. coli O157:H7 causing the current outbreak was identified in one sample collected in the sediment of an agricultural water reservoir at one ranch owned and operated by Adam Bros. Farming Inc. in Santa Barbara County. The strain isolated from this sample matched those collected from ill persons in this outbreak using Whole Genome Sequencing. The FDA is able to confirm that Adam Bros. hasn't shipped any romaine since Nov. 20. Experts are working with the farm to determine how contamination occurred and what corrective actions need to be taken before their next growing season.

Adams Bros is cooperating with the FDA and CDC in this outbreak investigation. They have committed to recalling products that may have come into contact with water from the water reservoir where the outbreak strain was found.

The finding on this farm, however, does not explain all illnesses. The FDA's traceback activities of romaine lettuce will continue as FDA works to determine what commonalities this farm may have with other farms and areas that are being assessed as part of the investigation.

This information allows FDA to modify its recommendations slightly. Given the identification of the outbreak pathogen on the one farm, the location of farms identified in the traceback, and the fact that the lettuce on the market at the peak of the outbreak should be beyond shelf life, there is no longer a reason for consumers to avoid romaine from San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties, in California, provided it was harvested after Nov. 23. The traceback investigation is still ongoing, and additional information will be provided as it becomes available.

Based on discussions with producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market will now be voluntarily labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date or labeled as being hydroponically- or greenhouse-grown. If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.

If romaine lettuce does have this labeling information, consumers are advised to avoid any product from Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara counties in California. Romaine lettuce from outside those counties need not be avoided. Consumers may notice that romaine lettuce is beginning to be available in stores with new labeling. Additionally, romaine from Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz counties harvested after Nov. 23 should be labeled with harvest area and harvest date, allowing it to be distinguished from romaine lettuce that should be avoided.

Romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara counties in California does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be related to the current outbreak. There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine harvested from these sources.

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(c)2018 The Albany Herald, Ga.

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