FDA Announces that Nearby Cows Are Likely Cause of Romaine Lettuce E. coli Outbreaks of Fall 2019
On May 21, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported recent findings from their investigation of the three romaine lettuce E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks originating in Salinas, California, during the Fall of 2019. Initially, several farms and some other businesses were placed under investigation after having been traced back in some manner to the three E. coli outbreaks. After further investigation of the supply chain and the various strains of E. coli O157:H7 present in the outbreaks, the FDA was able to narrow the investigation to a single farm, the common supplier of the other parties. Once the single farm was detected, officials began investigating the source of the contamination near the farm.
In a fecal–soil sample from a cattle grate on a public piece of land, only two miles uphill from the produce farm, officials detected the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 as that of Outbreak A of romaine lettuce in the Fall.
Although unrelated to the three romaine lettuce E. coli outbreaks during Fall 2019, several samples which were taken even closer to the romaine lettuce crops, on the outskirts of a nearby farm and in its water drainage system, Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC) was detected.
In their recent report the FDA says that these samples’ results and other findings reveal that “a potential contributing factor has been the proximity of cattle—a persistent source of E. coli O157:H7 and other STEC—to the produce fields identified in traceback investigations.”
Although this report is not conclusive to the investigation, it adds to the increasing number of outbreaks related to leafy greens which are oftentimes caused by fecal contamination from nearby livestock. In an attempt to deal with this issue, the FDA recently released a “2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan” to promote and address prevention, response, and knowledge gaps when it comes to the contamination of Leafy Greens.