(UPDATED COVERAGE, 5:30 p.m.) Initial test results in Oregon show that E. coli is present in deer droppings collected from the Jaquith Strawberry Farm where strawberries were harvested and sold via farmstands and farmers markets and later linked to an E. coli outbreak.
William Keene, senior epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Division, said Aug. 12 the initial results on 10 of more than 100 samples collected at the farm Aug. 6 came back positive for E. coli. However, more extensive tests must be done to verify that the E. coli strain is the same as the one that sickened 14 people.
Seven people were hospitalized and two remain in the hospital. One elderly woman died from kidney failure related to the E. coli infection.
Keene said officials are increasingly confident that they will be able to confirm that deer were the source of the contamination.
"There is no evidence that the farmer's practices were sub-standard," Keene said.
As for preventing future outbreaks, Keene said there is no sure method.
"Our best line of defense may turn out to be probability theory," the scientist said. "There are millions and millions of people who eat fresh produce every day and don't get sick."
The grower of the strawberries did not violate state law by selling berries to vendors, but some people who resold the berries at farmers markets might have broken a licensing regulation.
The administrator for the Food Safety Division of the Oregon Agriculture Department said whether the licensing law was violated will be investigated after public safety issues are resolved.
“I want to be perfectly clear, Jaquith (Strawberry Farm) didn’t violate any rules or statutes,” said food safety division administrator Vance Bybee on Aug. 10, adding that media reports stating resellers violated state law were premature.
“The law is much more complicated than that. … What we are doing right now is trying to find all of the berries and alert the public that they should throw out any they still have. That is what we are 150% involved in right now.”
Oregon law requires resellers to be licensed through the state’s agriculture department. The licensing process involves food safety inspections. Staff in the department have been tracking resellers of the strawberries and is compiling a list, which is updated daily on the department website, http://tinyurl.com/Oregon-strawberries.