The Federal Drug Administration officially concluded its investigation into the E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce that started in March. Officials believed early on that a contaminated water source might have been the culprit. Although there is no certainty to the findings, the final FDA report stated that a three and a half mile stretch of canal in Yuma County near Wellton tested positive for the same E. coli strain found in the lettuce. The FDA said they aren’t sure of exactly how the contamination happened, but interviews with growers and pest control advisors in the area revealed the canal water was sometimes used as direct irrigation and to dilute chemical applications. The report also eluded that a large animal feeding operation near the stretch of the canal could have been the initial source. The FDA said they will now begin sampling romaine lettuce from all growing regions and if contamination is found, they will trace the product back through the system and investigate for any unsanitary conditions.
The FDA noted that the investigation was challenging as many records were not in digital form, and some were even jotted-down notes. The FDA recommends producers assure that all agricultural water used is safe and adequate for its intended use, assess and mitigate risks related to land uses near or adjacent to growing fields that may contaminate agricultural water, and that they verify that food safety procedures, policies, and practices are developed and consistently implemented on farms.