May 26, 2020

Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreaks likely caused by nearby cattle

Nearby cattle likely led to E. coli in leafy greens that caused three outbreaks in 2019, according to a recently released report by the Food & Drug Administration.

The three outbreaks sickened 188 people in November and December 2019. The contaminated romaine lettuce was traced to Salinas Valley, California.

“FDA considers adjacent or nearby land use for cattle grazing as the most likely contributing factor associated with these three outbreaks,” the report stated. “While the agency could not confirm a definitive source or route(s) of contamination of the romaine fields, the Agency considers indirect transmission of fecal material from adjacent and nearby lands  from  water run-off, wind, animals or vehicles to the romaine fields, or to the agricultural water sources used to grow the romaine, as possible routes of contamination.

“Working with our state partners, FDA is continuing, through the 2020 growing/harvest season, to conduct mission critical STEC investigations in the Salinas growing region to follow up on our findings from the 2019 outbreaks.”

The full report, which was released May 21, can be found here.

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) said it will incorporate the FDA’s findings into its ongoing mission to create safer practices for growing and processing leafy greens.

“The leafy greens industry hopes to learn more about how leafy greens are being exposed to pathogens like E. coli in the environment and on land surrounding farms through a series of research projects,” LGMA said through a statement. “A project to gather samples and collect data is now underway in Arizona in cooperation with producers, the University of Arizona and the FDA.

“A similar study is being developed to perform research in California’s central coast growing areas with an eye toward considering preventative controls that may be necessary on land surrounding our farms as well as additional controls on the leafy greens farms themselves. The study would be done in cooperation with FDA, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, academia and the leafy greens industry. We’re hopeful this kind of work can be done to provide us with answers to help prevent future outbreaks.”

More information can be found here.