July 8, 2024

Investigation traces salmonella outbreak to Florida cucumber grower

A multi-state investigation of a salmonella outbreak has traced contaminated cucumbers to Bedner Growers Inc. of Boynton Beach, Florida.

The investigation, led by the U.S. Food & Drug Association and the Centers for Disease Control, found Salmonella braenderup in samples of untreated canal water used by the grower, according to a July 2 update on the FDA website.

The investigation combined separate inquiries into outbreaks of Salmonella africana and Salmonella braenderup that caused 449 illnesses in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The outbreaks shared similarities including when and where illnesses occurred, the demographics of ill people, and the foods they reported eating before they became sick, according to the FDA.

Persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella africana and braenderup by state of residence as of July 1. Source: FDA

Laboratory, epidemiological and traceback data pinpointed Bedner Growers cucumbers as a likely source of illnesses in the outbreak, though the update noted that the grower did not account for all the illnesses in the outbreak.

As part of the investigation, FDA conducted an onsite inspection at Bedner Growers, which supplies Fresh Start Produce Sales Inc. Fresh Start Produce Sales recalled whole cucumbers shipped to certain states in mid-May because of potential salmonella contamination.

Analysis determined that the salmonella found in the water used by Bedner Growers matched the strain of Salmonella braenderup in the outbreak. Additional types of salmonella were detected in both soil and water samples collected at Bedner Growers, with the CDC and FDA continuing to investigate whether those strains have caused illness.

The Florida Department of Agriculture took issue with the FDA findings, calling them “at best inaccurate and, at worst, misleading” in a report on WPTV West Palm Beach’s website.

Rep. Rick Roth, a Palm Beach County vegetable farmer, also expressed skepticism to WPTV.

“I have a hard time believing that any farming operation in Florida, South Florida, today, would be having an issue with salmonella that was in a canal water system that was able to get to a crop,” Roth said.

Roth objected to Bedner Growers being the only operation named even though the investigation found the operation did not account for all the illnesses in the outbreak.

“I think they rushed to judgment faster than normal, which makes it very suspect,” Roth told WPTV.

The FDA is continuing to conduct traceback to identify other possible points of contamination.

Bedner Growers’ cucumber growing and harvesting season is over, with no product from the farm on the market, according to the FDA.

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