SALINAS, Calif. (KION) The Food and Drug Administration released a report Thursday on the E. coli outbreaks in Fall 2019 tied to romaine lettuce, and it believes cattle near the fields may have contributed.
The FDA investigated three E. coli outbreaks linked to contaminated romaine lettuce between September 2019 and January 2020, and some clusters were linked to a grower with multiple fields in the Salinas area.
In total, the FDA said 188 people got sick during the outbreaks.
While investigating, one strain of E. coli was apparently found in a sample on public land less than two miles upslope from a farm with fields identified as part of the outbreak. Other strains were apparently found closer to where lettuce was grown, including two samples from the area where a farm borders cattle grazing area in hills above the fields and two from farm water drainage basins.
Those specific strains have not been tied to the outbreaks, according to the FDA, but show how pathogens may be moving and surviving. The agency said it believes nearby cattle has been a contributing factor, especially when they are next to and at higher elevations than fields.
The FDA is asking farmers who grow leafy greens to assess risks that come with nearby land uses, including grazing land and animal operations, even if it is not high-density.
To prevent more outbreaks, the FDA suggests preventing contamination from cattle grazing lands by increasing buffer zones or adding physical barriers, assessing risks, increasing traceability records and performing a root cause analysis when a food borne pathogen is found in produce or the growing environment. More recommendations can be found here.