The Federal Drug Administration made their romaine lettuce investigation records public this week, confirming only one source of the E. coli outbreak was identified. In December, the FDA identified a Santa Barbary County farm as one of the sources of an E. coli outbreak that took place in October, finding the strain of the bacteria in a neighboring irrigation canal.
There were other unexplained sources of the bacteria found during the traceback process, but the FDA said those cases would remain undefined. The report stated “It’s believed that this water came into contact with the harvested portion of the romaine lettuce since the outbreak strain was found in sediment from the reservoir and in no other sampled locations. The water from the reservoir doesn’t explain how lettuce grown on other ranches or farms identified by traceback may have been contaminated. So, this one farm cannot explain the entire outbreak.”
The report also states wildlife activity is abundant around the irrigation canal and that the Santa Barbara County farm had procedures in place to sanitize the water before use, but noted that records showed insufficient amounts to neutralize any pathogens. The other information to note in the report is that officials stated “The finding of the outbreak strain in the sediment of the water reservoir is significant, as studies have shown that generic E. coli can survive in sediments much longer than in the overlying water. It’s possible that the outbreak strain may have been present in the on-farm water reservoir for some months or even years before the investigation team collected the positive sample. It is also possible that the outbreak strain may have been repeatedly introduced into the reservoir from an unknown source.”