Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the newly formed Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force, met for 2 days to share preliminary hypotheses from the Environmental Assessment in the Yuma, AZ, growing region 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.

It was previously reported that nearby canal water samples had tested positive for Escherichia coli O157:H7— the same strain linked to the ongoing romaine lettuce outbreak that has thus far sickened 210 people in 36 states. Ninety-six people have been hospitalized and five people have died. The canal water could have contaminated the lettuce via direct irrigation, or through other means.

The new information uncovered in this 2-day meeting is that the canal in question is located near a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), which FDA describes as “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.”  

Health officials are investigating whether or not there is a connection between the CAFO, the nearby canal, and any other factors— geological or otherwise— that may explain the romaine lettuce contamination and outbreak. Additional sampling activities will be conducted to further explore and narrow down hypotheses in the near future. The findings will be detailed in a finalized environmental assessment report.

FDA is urging both 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. 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.

More on the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak:
Yuma Region Environmental Samples Test Positive for E. coli 
Five Deaths in Romaine Lettuce E. coli Outbreak 
FDA Shares Traceback Details for Romaine Lettuce E. coli Outbreak as Investigation Continues 
Leafy Greens Industry Forms Task Force in Light of Romaine Lettuce Outbreak 

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