(Oct. 6, UPDATED COVERAGE) Aunt Mid’s Produce Co. isn’t waiting around for Michigan health and agriculture officials to clear the processor in the state’s investigation of an E. coli outbreak.
“We’ve done some independent lab tests, and they’ve all come back negative,” said Dominic Riggio, president of the Detroit-based company.
The Michigan Department of Community Health said in a Sept. 26 news release that it had linked the outbreak to bagged, industrial-sized packages of iceberg lettuce and named Aunt Mid’s as the distributor.
However, Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture said Sept. 30 that her agency had not “identified the source of contamination or impacted product lots.”
She said the department of agriculture took product samples from Aunt Mid’s on Sept. 29 and environmental samples Sept. 30. Holton said Oct. 2 that initial product tests were negative, but more product tests and environmental tests were pending.
“We want to make sure we’re doing our due diligence,” she said.
Riggio said Aunt Mid’s traceback program is capable of tracking products back to the grower, but he declined to say where the company sourced its iceberg lettuce.
“Until contamination is verified we don’t want to damage our growers the way we’ve been damaged, without proof, by the Michigan Department of Community Health,” he said.
Jerry Wojtala, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s food and dairy division, said Aunt Mid’s was sourcing from multiple growers in multiple states, including California, when the outbreak started.
Universities, jail affected
James McCurtis, spokesman for Michigan’s health department, said that as of Oct. 2 there were 34 reported illnesses in the state and at least 18 hospitalizations. No deaths have been reported.
McCurtis said the health department linked the outbreak to Aunt Mid’s after clusters of illnesses emerged, including nine Michigan State University students and three University of Michigan students who ate at campus facilities and five inmates at Lenawee County Jail.
“Aunt Mid’s is or was the sole supplier to the Lenawee County Jail,” he said. “It is one of many suppliers to MSU. Also, the people who were hit with the same strain in Illinois ate at a restaurant that served lettuce from Aunt Mid’s.”
McCurtis said onset dates in Michigan range from Sept. 9-19, but additional cases could still be reported.
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health said Oct. 2 that there have been six illnesses and five hospitalizations associated with the outbreak in that state with onset dates ranging from late August through mid-September.