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The Food and Drug Administration has formed a partnership with the Yuma, Ariz., leafy greens industry and other groups in a multi-year study to determine how crops in the area are getting contaminated with pathogens.

The FDA is enlisting help from Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District in the study, following a spring 2018 E. coli outbreak from romaine lettuce that killed five people and made hundreds of others sick. Investigators found the same E. coli strain in canal water that passed near a cattle feedlot.

Other entities taking part in the study are the Arizona Department of Agriculture and University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

An Environmental Assessment of the Yuma growing region narrowed the scope of the outbreak, according to an FDA release, but questions remain, including the specific E. coli source, how it was distributed and potential reservoirs for the outbreak strain.

The study will involve sampling surface water, canal sediment, dust and scat, according to the release.

“The findings from this study will contribute new knowledge on how various environmental factors may influence bacterial persistence and distribution in this region, and how those factors may impact the risk of this commodity becoming contaminated,” according to the release. “Results from this collaboration will lead to improved practices to prevent or mitigate food safety risks, and ultimately enhance the safety of produce grown in the region.

From 2009 to 2017, The FDA and Center for Disease Control and Prevention have traced 28 foodborne outbreaks to Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli from leafy greens, according to the release.

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