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Feds ID Santa Barbara farm as one source of lettuce contamination

Dispatch - 12/19/2018

Dec. 14--The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday afternoon, Dec. 13 that it has identified "a positive sample result for the outbreak strain in the sediment of a local irrigation reservoir used by a single farm owned and operated by Adam Bros. Farms in Santa Barbara County."

The FDA said it will be sending investigators back to this farm for further sampling. "It's important to note that although this is an important piece of information, the finding on this farm doesn't explain all illnesses and our traceback investigation will continue as we narrow down what commonalities this farm may have with other farms that are part of our investigation," the agency said in a statement. "While the analysis of the strain found in the people who got ill and the sediment in one of this farm's water sources is a genetic match, our traceback work suggests that additional romaine lettuce shipped from other farms could also likely be implicated in the outbreak."

"Therefore, the water from the reservoir on this single farm doesn't fully explain what the common source of the contamination. We are continuing to investigate what commonalities there could be from multiple farms in the region that could explain this finding in the water, and potentially the ultimate source of the outbreak."

Federal and state investigators last week had narrowed their nationwide search for the source of romaine lettuce contamination to six California counties, including San Benito County.

As the search continued into its third week, officials still contended that "the outbreak cannot be explained by a single farm, grower, harvester or distributor."

In a statement, the Food and Drug Administration said, "Traceback information from five restaurants in four different states so far has implicated 11 different distributors, 9 different growers and 8 different farms as potential sources of the contaminated lettuce."

The agency, which is coordinating the probe in California with the Centers for Disease Control and the California departments of public health and food and agriculture, said its probe is continuing. No counties were removed from the list on Dec. 13.

Information that investigators collected through Dec. 13 continued to indicate that contaminated romaine lettuce from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California contained the likely sources of the current outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections. The California counties FDA is including in the region are Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura.

The FDA reported that on-site investigations of farms and lettuce cooling facilities in the Central Coast collected samples of romaine lettuce, soil, water, and scat (animal droppings), and found no evidence of the E.coli strain. Results of water testing being conducted by CDC are pending.

The FDA announced last week that both the United States and Canada are seeing increasing numbers of people confirmed with infections from the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. Neither country has reported any confirmed deaths in relation to the outbreak.

As of Dec. 6, the U.S.CDC reported 52 patients across 15 states. Canadian officials reported 27 people in four provinces have fallen ill. The outbreak strain is proving particularly virulent, having a U.S. hospitalization rate of 42 percent. Nine of the patients in Canada have been admitted to hospitals. Two people in each country have developed kidney failure.

In the United States, illness onset dates range from Oct. 5 to Nov. 18. The sick people range in age from 1 to 84. Public health officials expect additional outbreak illnesses to be confirmed.

"Illnesses that occurred after Nov. 14 might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with E. coli infection and when the illness is reported," the CDC reported. "Twenty-four--83 percent--of 29 people interviewed reported eating romaine lettuce. Ill people reported eating different types of romaine lettuce in several restaurants and at home."

The "traceback" investigations involve reviewing shipping records and invoices to trace the romaine that ill people who are part of this outbreak consumed backward through the supply chain to identify where it was grown and where in the supply chain it may have become contaminated.

The FDA's advice to consumers has not changed. Based on discussions with producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market is now being labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date or labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse-grown. A random search of produce sections of local market showed smaller than usual amounts of romaine lettuce, and all of it was marked with the new labels.

Consumers are warned that if romaine lettuce does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.

If romaine lettuce does have this labeling information, the agency still advises avoiding "any product from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California." Romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central 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.

Neither health nor food safety officials on either side of the international border named any of the farms or other entities they have identified as having grown or handled the romaine in question.

An FDA spokesperson said the leafy greens industry has agreed to establish a task force to find solutions for long-term labeling of romaine lettuce and other leafy greens for helping to identify products and to put in place standards for traceability of products.

Jennifer McEntire of the United Fresh Produce Association was leader for the traceability group of the LGMA task force earlier this year.

This group evaluated current traceback programs in the produce industry and their impact on traceability during outbreak events.

As the search continued into its third week, officials concluded that "the outbreak cannot be explained by a single farm, grower, harvester or distributor."

In a Dec. 6 statement, the Food and Drug Administration said, "Traceback information from four restaurants in three different states so far has implicated 10 different distributors, 12 different growers and 11 different farms as potential sources of the contaminated lettuce."

The agency, which is coordinating the probe in California with the Centers for Disease Control and the California departments of public health and food and agriculture, declined to identify any of the farms or distributors under scrutiny. It added that "counties may be added or removed as the investigation progresses."

Information that investigators have collected through Dec. 6, continues to indicate that contaminated romaine lettuce from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California is the likely source of the current outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections. The California counties FDA is including in the region are Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura.

The FDA reported that on-site investigations of farms and lettuce cooling facilities in the Central Coast collected samples of romaine lettuce, soil, water, and scat (animal droppings), and found no evidence of the E.coli strain. Results of water testing being conducted by CDC are pending.

The FDA announced last week that both the United States and Canada are seeing increasing numbers of people confirmed with infections from the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. Neither country has reported any confirmed deaths in relation to the outbreak.

As of Dec. 6, the U.S.CDC reported 52 patients across 15 states. Canadian officials reported 27 people in four provinces have fallen ill. The outbreak strain is proving particularly virulent, having a U.S. hospitalization rate of 42 percent. Nine of the patients in Canada have been admitted to hospitals. Two people in each country have developed kidney failure.

In the United States, illness onset dates range from Oct. 5 to Nov. 18. The sick people range in age from 1 to 84. Public health officials expect additional outbreak illnesses to be confirmed.

"Illnesses that occurred after Nov. 14 might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with E. coli infection and when the illness is reported," the CDC reported. "Twenty-four--83 percent--of 29 people interviewed reported eating romaine lettuce. Ill people reported eating different types of romaine lettuce in several restaurants and at home."

The "traceback" investigations involve reviewing shipping records and invoices to trace the romaine that ill people who are part of this outbreak consumed backward through the supply chain to identify where it was grown and where in the supply chain it may have become contaminated.

The FDA's advice to consumers has not changed. Based on discussions with producers and distributors, romaine lettuce entering the market is now being labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date or labeled as being hydroponically or greenhouse-grown. A random search of produce sections of local market showed smaller than usual amounts of romaine lettuce, and all of it was marked with the new labels.

Consumers are warned that if romaine lettuce does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.

If romaine lettuce does have this labeling information, the agency still advises avoiding "any product from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California." Romaine lettuce that was harvested outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central 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.

Neither health nor food safety officials on either side of the international border named any of the farms or other entities they have identified as having grown or handled the romaine in question.

An FDA spokesperson said the leafy greens industry has agreed to establish a task force to find solutions for long-term labeling of romaine lettuce and other leafy greens for helping to identify products and to put in place standards for traceability of products.

Jennifer McEntire of the United Fresh Produce Association was leader for the traceability group of the LGMA task force earlier this year.

This group evaluated current traceback programs in the produce industry and their impact on traceability during outbreak events.

___

(c)2018 The Gilroy Dispatch, Calif.

Visit The Gilroy Dispatch, Calif. at www.gilroydispatch.com

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