Earlier this month, the FDA participated in a meeting of the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force in response to the serious outbreak of E.coli associated with romaine lettuce that occurred earlier this year. During that meeting the FDA shared a preliminary hypothesis that may link the outbreak to water near a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in the Yuma, Arizona growing region.
As FDA has previously stated, samples of canal water tested positive for the outbreak strain of E.coli. The FDA continues to consider that contaminated water came into contact with the produce, either through direct irrigation or other means, and is a viable explanation for the pattern of contamination. Other hypotheses were discussed as well, but the 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 traces back information showed a clustering of romaine lettuce farms nearby.
FDA’s 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. Their findings will be detailed in a finalized environmental assessment report.
More than 200 people in 36 states became ill after the E.coli outbreak. Ninety-six people had to be hospitalized and five died.
The environmental assessment report will be made publicly available when complete.