The Food and Drug Administration’s investigation into an E. coli outbreak has identified numerous potential sources of the pathogen, suggesting no single farm, processor or distributor is involved.
But investigators who have been inspecting California farms and lettuce facilities for almost two weeks have yet to find E. coli in sample testing.
The FDA released an update on its investigation Dec. 6, stating that traceback information from four restaurants in three states has “implicated 10 different distributors, 12 different growers and 11 different farms as potential sources of the contaminated lettuce. The information indicates that the outbreak cannot be explained by a single farm, grower, harvester, or distributor.”
Those apparently have all been traced back to the six Central Coast of California counties the FDA has identified as the most likely origin of the romaine. According to the update, information collected up to Dec. 6 indicates the romaine likely came from an area that includes Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties.
The FDA is using shipping records and invoices to trace the romaine, aided by its Produce Safety Network, which includes personnel from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, who provide region-specific expertise on produce safety policy and science, along with others from the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, who specialize in safety inspections and investigations.
The FDA announced the outbreak on Nov. 20, the same day it and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued advisories that removed romaine from the commerce stream. On Nov. 23, the FDA, the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Food and Agriculture began inspecting California farms and lettuce cooling facilities that were identified in tracebacks in the U.S. and Canada.
“The investigation teams have been collecting romaine lettuce, soil, water, and scat samples,” according to the Dec 6 notice. “To date, E. coli O157:H7 has not been found in any of the lettuce, soil or scat samples. Results of water testing being conducted by CDC are pending.”
The FDA reiterated that romaine grown outside of the six California counties is safe to eat.