Surprised? I did not think so. Cattle feces from a CAFO gets into the water supply that is used to irrigate romaine lettuce – what possibly could go wrong?
Of note, the FDA still has not been transparent (except that “romaine [lettuce] from the Yuma growing region as the likely source of contamination”) as to where the romaine was consumed (except for the “Alaskan correctional facility back to a single farm – [Harrison]”). Nor, has the FDA been transparent what farms grew the romaine, where and who processed it and who shipped it. The FDA in fact knows most, if not all, of this, but refuses to release the information citing, “trade secrets.”
As the CDC reported in its final assessment of the outbreak on June 28, 2018, there are 210 cases in 36 states: Alabama (3) Alaska (8), Arkansas (1), Arizona (9), California (49), Colorado (3), Connecticut (2), Florida (3), Georgia (5), Idaho (12), Illinois (2), Iowa (1), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Massachusetts (4), Michigan (5), Minnesota (12), Mississippi (1), Missouri (1), Montana (9), Nebraska (1), New Jersey (8), New York (11), North Carolina (1), North Dakota (3), Ohio (7), Oklahoma (1), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (24), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (3), Texas (4), Utah (1), Virginia (1), Washington (8), and Wisconsin (3). 5 deaths were reported from Arkansas, California, Minnesota (2), and New York. 8 illnesses were reported in Canada linked to the same outbreak.
On August 6, 2018, the FDA posted an update on the status of its ongoing environmental assessment on the likely, what used to be called the “root cause.” The FDA’s update was as follows:
On July 31 and August 1, 2018, the FDA participated in a meeting of the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force that was formed in response to the serious outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with romaine lettuce that occurred earlier this year. During the meeting FDA shared preliminary hypotheses from the Environmental Assessment in Yuma to facilitate conversations with state and local officials, industry and local growers on the hypotheses and associated actions necessary to prevent such an outbreak from occurring again.
As FDA has previously stated, samples of canal water have tested positive for the outbreak strain of E. coli. FDA continues to consider that contaminated water coming into contact with produce, either through direct irrigation or other means, is a viable explanation for the pattern of contamination. But other hypotheses were discussed as well. FDA notes that the canal is close to a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), a facility with a large number of cattle on the premises. The CAFO can hold in excess of 100,000 head of cattle at any one time and the FDA traceback information showed a clustering of romaine lettuce farms nearby.
Our experts continue to work on examining potential links between the CAFO, adjacent water, and geologic and other factors that may explain the contamination and its relationship to the outbreak. Additional sampling activities will be conducted to further explore and narrow down hypotheses in the near future. Our findings will be detailed in a finalized environmental assessment report.
We urge other government and non-government entities, produce growers in the region, and those engaged in managing the canal systems to work with FDA and marshal and deploy resources to achieve our collective food safety goal. Broad engagement from the surrounding community is critical to developing and implementing remediation measures to reduce the potential for another outbreak. We believe local in-depth knowledge and actions are critical in helping resolve this issue in order to protect public health.
The Environmental Assessment report will be made publicly available when complete.
And, then there is this – for those “geographically challenged,” Yuma is near the dark purple in the lower left corner:
To date, we have filed 10 lawsuits and are making great progress tracing back from restaurants and grocery stores that sold the E. coli-tainted romaine in the spring. And, once the “points of sale” flip the supply chain of the romaine, we are making great progress finding out who brokered the sale and who processed the romaine. We are making slower process identifying specific farms, but that information is coming. Once we have the names of more farms, we will move back up other chains of distribution identifying additional shippers, brokers, processors and eventually more restaurants and grocery stores.
Having discovery and subpoena power is a great tool for truth.