Traceback investigations into three concurrent E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce from the Salinas, Calif., area, has led to one common grower.
The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are investigating several Salinas area ranches used by the grower, according to a Dec. 12 update from the FDA on the E. coli outbreaks.
The FDA has not identified the grower, but it had been focusing on three Salinas-area farms early in its investigation into the first of the three E. coli outbreaks.
The FDA reported that growing regions outside of Salinas have not been implicated in the outbreaks.
The agency continues to advise consumers to avoid Salinas romaine, a message it first released on Nov. 22, triggering a voluntary withdrawal of romaine products and curtailed harvest in the area, which was beginning to wrap up for the season.
Details on the three outbreaks, which have distinct and separate strains of E. coli:
Outbreak 1: This outbreak, which brought about the removal of Salinas romaine, has sickened 102 people in 23 states, with the latest onset of Nov. 18. The Maryland Department of Health on Nov. 15 reported it tested an unopened Ready Pac brand Caesar salad kit; it tested positive for E. coli, leading investigators to the three Salinas area farms. On Dec. 10, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said a bag of Fresh Express chopped romaine from Salinas, found in an ill person’s home, tested positive for the E. coli strain in this outbreak.
Outbreak 2: Thirteen E. coli cases were traced to six Seattle Evergreens restaurants, and the FDA reported Dec. 12 romaine was involved. Sick people reported eating at the restaurants between Nov. 5-1; by Dec. 6 all patients had recovered, according to the King County Public Health Department.
Outbreak 3: Eight E. coli cases in the U.S. and 16 in Canada were linked to Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits, causing a recall in Canada on Dec. 8 and an FDA advisory to not eat the salads on Dec. 9. Six of the U.S. patients reported “eating or maybe eating” the Fresh Express salad.
Scott Horsfall of the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement said Dec. 10 that he’s confident romaine from Salinas is no longer in the marketplace due to the FDA advisory on Nov. 22 and the products being past their “best by” dates.
“Our main hope, obviously, is that we learn something” from the investigations into the cause of the outbreaks, he said.
The California LGMA released a statement on Dec. 12 with a list of points that unify the outbreaks, including:
- Illnesses are from a similar time frame, with the most recent one in mid-November;
- The most likely item linking the outbreaks is Salinas romaine, which is no longer being harvested, shipped, or carrying a current “best-by” dates;
- Romaine grown outside the Salinas area, or any other leafy green, has not been implicated.
“The leafy greens community appreciates governments’ efforts to provide greater transparency and we realize detailed information is critical to learning what can be done to prevent future outbreaks,” according to the LGMA statement. “We continue to work with government agencies to learn all we can about these outbreaks so that our food safety practices can be improved to prevent future illnesses.
“As always, our thoughts are with those whose lives have been impacted in these outbreaks.”