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Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 13, 2006

The United Fresh Produce Association issued the statement we copy below related to the FDA and California Department of Health Services finding on one ranch that supplied Natural Selection Foods some cattle feces that match the strain of E. coli 0157:H7 that was implicated in the spinach recall.

Although the whole world will leap to the conclusion that this proves the tainted spinach came from that ranch, it does nothing of the sort.

Remember, the FDA and CDHS are not doing a random study of ranches in Salinas. They are bearing down on those they can associate with supplying Natural Selection Foods with product during the period in question.

That means that we have no idea if they would have found that same strain of E. coli 0157:H7 on other ranches that they haven’t even looked at.

I don’t see that it brings us any closer to a causal link.

Here is United’s notice:

The California Department of Health Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this evening that three positive samples of E. coli 0157:H7 with the same genetic strain as that which caused the recent foodborne disease outbreak in spinach have been identified in cattle feces on one ranch that supplied spinach to Natural Selections Foods on the day of production in question.

Dr. Kevin Reilly of CDHS reported that the investigators have now narrowed the investigation from nine to four ranches, now limited to two counties — San Benito and Monterey. The positive matches for the same DNA strain linked to the spinach outbreak were all found on one ranch, although investigation continues on all four. Reilly said that the three samples of cattle feces that tested positive were located between one-half and one mile from the actual field where spinach was grown, but that the cattle pasture was adjacent to the field. Reilly said that the land owner sublet a portion of the ranch for fresh produce production, and also maintained a cattle ranch on the property.

Investigators emphasized that this is the first time a direct matching strain of E. coli 0157:H7 that was linked to foodborne disease has been identified in the environment in this area, in close proximity to the field where implicated spinach was grown. However, officials strongly advised that this does not prove cause-and-effect, but is a significant finding for further investigation. The agencies would not speculate as to how the contamination may have been transmitted to the spinach.

Both California and FDA officials stressed tonight that there have been “significant improvements” and “a lot of progress” in implementing Good Agricultural Practices across this growing region and the industry in the past year. “We’re not 100% there yet, with 100% of the farms implementing GAPs 100% of the time, but that’s where we’re heading,” Reilly said. As an example, Reilly once again commended The Nunes Company for its precautionary recall of green leaf lettuce earlier this week, stating that this was evidence of commitment to GAPs taking hold throughout the industry.

“We commend the staff at CDHS and FDA who have worked so hard to help narrow this investigation further,” said United Fresh President Tom Stenzel. “The finding of this matching strain is extremely helpful in learning exactly what went wrong in this case. There is more investigation to be done, but the public can certainly have confidence that we are narrowing this down to a specific cause that industry and government together can work to prevent in the future,” he said.

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