Packer Insight - FDA names farm in romaine outbreak
The CDC has narrowed its romaine advisory in light of new information from the FDA. ( File Photo )

The Food and Drug Administration has named Adam Bros. Farm in Santa Barbara County as one potential source of the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine — but it cautions that the finding does not explain all the illnesses in the outbreak.

Investigators found E. coli in the sediment of an irrigation reservoir used by Adam Bros. Farm, but the FDA continues to search for other sources of contaminated product.

“While the analysis of the strain found in the people who got ill and the sediment in one of this farm’s water sources is a genetic match, our traceback work suggests that additional romaine lettuce shipped from other farms could also likely be implicated in the outbreak,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb and deputy commissioner Frank Yiannas said in a statement. “Therefore, the water from the reservoir on this single farm doesn’t fully explain what the common source of the contamination (is). We are continuing to investigate what commonalities there could be from multiple farms in the region that could explain this finding in the water and potentially the ultimate source of the outbreak.”

The investigation has produced records from five restaurants in four states, with those restaurants sourcing from 11 distributors, nine growers and eight farms, according to the FDA.

Currently, there is no one company that is a part of all the supply chains being investigated.

“This indicates that although we have identified a positive sample from one farm to date, the outbreak may not be explained by a single farm, grower, harvester or distributor,” Gottlieb and Yiannas said.

Though the search continues, the FDA has narrowed its consumer advisory.

Now the counties associated with the outbreak are Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Benito.

“Given the identification of the outbreak pathogen on the farm in Santa Barbara County, the farms identified in the traceback, and the fact that the lettuce on the market at the peak of the outbreak should be beyond shelf life, we feel there is no longer a reason for consumers to avoid romaine lettuce from San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties in California, provided it was harvested after Nov. 23,” Gottlieb and Yiannas said in the statement.

The FDA continues to caution shoppers that they should not purchase product unless they can determine its origin.

Health officials had attributed 59 illnesses in the U.S. and 27 illnesses in Canada to the outbreak as of Dec. 13.

Adam Bros. Farms is cooperating with the FDA and has not shipped any romaine since Nov. 20.

“The company has committed to recalling products that may have come into contact with the agricultural water reservoir, and we are working with the farm to determine how the contamination occurred and what corrective actions they would need to take before their next growing season,” Gottlieb and Yiannas said.


Labeling lauded

In its statement, the FDA gave the leafy greens industry credit for complying with the agency’s request for a hard stop on romaine harvesting and production after the initial announcement of the outbreak.

“Knowing the growing origin of produce will continue to play an important role in allowing consumers to avoid contaminated products and facilitating market withdrawals and tracebacks and why we previously called on improvements to labeling and traceability,” Gottlieb and Yiannas said.

They also noted that such labeling will allow for narrower advisories in the future.

“We’ll continue to work with the leafy green industry on our task force to find solutions for long-term labeling of romaine lettuce and other leafy greens for helping to identify products and ways to improve traceability,” Gottlieb and Yiannas said.