More information on the possible cause of the recent romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak has been brought to light, as several samples of canal water in the Yuma, AZ, area were found to contain E. coli O157:H7, a genetic match of the strain that caused the outbreak, according to FDA.
While the agency identified additional strains of shiga-toxin producing E. coli in collected samples, initial testing of these isolates indicates they are different than the outbreak strain. FDA, CDC and Arizona state officials are continuing to analyze samples from the Yuma region collected in early June to learn more about the outbreak’s origin.
This is likely why no common supplier has been identified. If multiple farms were using the same water source, samples from the entire region could be contaminated.
In addition, the CDC reports that, as of June 28, a total of 185 laboratory-confirmed cases of Cyclospora infection were reported in people who consumed pre-packaged Del Monte Fresh Produce vegetable trays. The number is up from the June 21 update, which reported 144 cases.
Foodborne illnesses have been an ongoing issue for the food industry, including salmonella outbreaks, which I addressed in my June 18 blog, “Salmonella Outbreaks Prompt Concern Over Food Safety.” However, an April 20 blog by Chris Campbell, “Annual Food Recalls More than Doubled Between 2004 and 2013,” delves into the increase in food recalls to prevent the spread of foodborne disease.
Although the slew of recent outbreaks could easily lead us to assume that foodborne pathogens are becoming a bigger and bigger problem, I think what we really need to consider is that modern technology is now better equipped to quickly identify such outbreaks. Today’s technology makes it easier to pinpoint the source of foodborne illnesses and accurately trace their path through the food system. The industry certainly has its work cut out for it, but it’s taken an important step in combating food safety issues.