health_20081031_snacktime_banner.jpgScreen Shot 2011-08-08 at 8.20.20 PM.pngLynne Terry of the Oregonian tells the tale of the medium-sized strawberry producer, with about 35 acres, who sold tainted fresh strawberries to buyers who in turn distributed them to roadside stands and farmers markets in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Yamhill and Clatsop counties.

The E. coli O157:H7 outbreak sickened over a dozen, sent four people to the hospital, including two people who suffered kidney failure (hemolytic uremic syndrome). One of them, an elderly woman in Washington County, died of kidney failure.

According to Lynne, strawberries have never before been implicated in an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the U.S.  However, there have been at least 19 bacterial and viral outbreaks linked to berried in the past decades.

William Keene, senior epidemiologist with Oregon Public Health, suspects the source in this outbreak might be deer he saw roaming through the fields. He hauled samples of animal feces to a specialized lab outside Seattle for testing.

  • gabrielle meunier

    Does washing the fruit remove the E-coli?

  • Annika forester

    The citation of 19 outbreaks “associated with berries” in past decades is profoundly vague and only contributes to more consumer confusion.
    First, let’s break the “berry” category apart please, and give us the numbers by crop. Production methods vary dramatically from strawberries to blueberries to blackberries. Though they may appear together in food stylists’ photo spreads, let’s not get carried away with guilt-by-association. This association is an outdated relic of USDA/FDA classification and does not help anyone, from producer to retailer to regulator to consumer, navigate the minefield of food safety risks.
    Second, “association” with an outbreak is also a very sloppy term. As a journalist, could you please provide a little more specificity as to the nature of the association? Of the 19 “aasociations” how many were in fresh vs processed fruit? How many were attributed to mishandling or other adulteration in a food prep/kitchen environment vs contamination originating on the farm?
    Grouping all “berries” together in this way does not help anyone understand where the system is “broken” and therefore makes it all the more difficult to fix.

  • Thanks for the comment. I thought about listing out all of the related outbreaks, but opted for providing a link – perhaps you should follow that link?

  • I wish – any fruit with rough skin is problematic. Washing can knock down the amount of the bacteria, but not necessarily remove it. That is why goo growing practices are so important.

  • Seems irresponsible for Oregon investigators to blame the deer before having any concrete evidence from the testing. Efforts to find deer that test positive have not been very successful. Reminds of the 3 little pigs blamed for the Salinas spinach incident.

  • Mary

    So I know that it’s not perfect–and would be only one piece of this, but is it possible to add irradiation to your home food hygiene steps?
    Is there any consumer device for my countertop?
    If the foodies are gonna prevent producers and grocers from doing it, at the same time using more organic fertilizers and having cute animals walk around everything–can I get some home rads?
    I’m seriously wondering if there is a consumer device for this. And if not, anyone want to invest?

  • Michele Jay-Russell

    A few excerpts from our paper that may be of interest:

    Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Feral Swine near Spinach Fields and Cattle, Central California Coast

    E. coli O157 was cultured from 45 (13.4%) of 335 samples, including cattle and feral swine feces, feral swine colonic feces from necropsy, surface water and sediment, and pasture soil (Table 1).
    Isolates from 28 environmental samples at ranch A were indistinguishable from the major spinach-related outbreak strain by PFGE.

    Feral swine were the most abundant wildlife observed on ranch A, and evidence of intrusion, including tracks, rooting, or feces in crop fields and adjacent vineyards, was documented (Figure 1). Birds, black-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, and ground squirrels also were observed, but the population density of these species appeared lower, and their activity was confined mostly to rangeland areas according to visual observations. Swine visited the traps almost continuously from dusk until dawn with peak activity between 5:00 pm and midnight. An average of 3.6 swine/trap/night were live-captured. The estimated population density was 4.6 swine/km2 (95% confidence interval [CI] 3.8–5.9), and the actual number of feral swine on ranch A was estimated to be 149 animals (95% CI 124–192) (Figure 1). Feral swine used livestock rangelands and gained access to adjacent crop fields through gaps formed at the base of the fence by erosion and rooting. Cattle and feral swine had access to and congregated at surface waterways on the ranch (Figure 1).


    We describe the first, to our knowledge, isolation of E. coli O157 from feral swine in the United States. The percentage of specimens positive for E. coli O157 among feral swine (14.9%) and cattle (33.8%) and the density (4.6 swine/km2) were high compared with results of previous ecologic studies.

    Mechanisms of in-field contamination of leafy greens for this and previous outbreaks remain unclear, but hypotheses have emerged. A relatively high density of feral swine near cattle and spinach fields could represent a risk factor for E. coli O157 contamination. Wildlife may be sentinels for E. coli O157 in the produce production environment, or they may be vectors involved in the contamination of plants directly by fecal deposition or indirectly by fecal contamination of surface waterways or soil. Notably, baby spinach is harvested with a lawn mower–like machine that could pick up fecal deposits in the field and thereby contaminate large volumes of product during processing. Fecal loading of surface waterways by livestock and wildlife with subsequent contamination of wells used for irrigation represents another possible route of transmission to plants in the field.

  • Steve

    There’s not a lot of definitive scientific studies to finger wildlife and indeed results were inconclusive in the spinach outbreak. What’s known is the virulent E coli 0157 strain ORIGINATES in cattle lots — and may be easily transported to nearby spinach fields by feedlot dust on the wind or water run-off after a rain.

  • Mary, the only irradiation technology that might be suitable for home use would be e-beam technology but it probably will not be affordable for home use soon.
    ( Since most people would not want cobalt source in their homes? Of course, the anti technology group will freak with idea of home irradiation unit. E-beam makes an interesting analogy between the old cathode ray tubes (before the flat screen) and e-beam technology. “The tube inside a TV set accelerates electrons to 20,000 volts, whereas modern industrial accelerators can boost electron energies up to 10,000,000 volts.”
    To Dave Runsten and Steve, deer have been identified in several studies as carries of e. coli O157H7. For folks who are interesting in researching material, Google has a beta tool called scholar. Here are a number of articles that report E. coli O157:H7 isolation from deer and provide surveillance data. I would recommend for folks that are interested in reading scientific articles about food safety try this resource
    Escherichia coli 0 1 57:H7: an update on intestinal colonization and virulence mechanisms
    Animal issues associated with Escherichia coli O157:H7
    Signs of disease have not been observed in deer that are carriers of E coli O157:H7. The prevalence of E coli O157:H7 in deer was 2.5% in north central Kansas, which is similar to the prevalence found in cattle in the same geographic area.
    A Multistate Outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 Infections Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts
    Grown from Contaminated Seeds
    An Outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 Infection from Unpasteurized Commercial Apple Juice
    An outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections and hemolytic uremic syndrome associated with consumption of unpasteurized apple cider
    Diversity, Frequency, and Persistence of Escherichia coli O157 Strains from Range Cattle Environments†
    Approaches to Controlling Escherichia coli 01 57:H7, a Foodborne Pathogen and an Emerging Environmental Hazard
    Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., Verocytotoxic Escherichia coli, and Antibiotic Resistance in Indicator Organisms in Wild Cervids
    Examinations for VTEC
    A total of 104 isolates of potentially pathogenic serovars of E. coli were found in the 207 pooled samples examined. E. coli O103 was found in 41% of the pooled samples, while O26 and O145 were found less frequently. O111 and O157 were not detected (Table 3).
    All 104 isolates were examined for the shigatoxin gene by PCR-analyses, of which 102 isolates were definitely negative. One O103 isolate from red deer was slightly positive for stx1 and another O103 isolate from red deer was positive for both stx1 and stx2.
    A total of 79 isolates were tested for the presence of the gene sequence (eae) that codes for the production of intimin. The two isolates of O103 being positive with regards to stx in PCR were included in this analysis, and tested negative. Two isolates from reindeer were found to be positive in the eae test: one an O103 and the other an O145. However, both these isolates were found to be negative for the stx gene sequence. Hence, no isolates were found to be potentially pathogenic to humans in the sense that gene sequences coding for shigatoxin and intimin were not identified in the same strain.

  • Doc Mudd

    But even just a little research can be a powerfully informative thing…
    E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with deer…in Oregon…must be a coincidence!
    Here we find the bug already in grass-fed beef calves before entering any feedlot…
    Also sheep and goats at a petting zoo…
    Finally, the ORIGINATION of E. coli O157:H7 appears to be from a strain of e. coli associated with human infantile diarrhea…