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[SANET-MG] two reports on the E coli outbreak in spinach
E. COLI PROBE FAILS TO SOLVE OUTBREAK
Paicines Ranch officially named as source
By DAWN WITHERS
The Salinas Californian
A report released Friday after seven months of investigation has
officially identified the Central Coast ranch where E. coli bacteria
contaminated spinach last fall, but it fails to show how the produce
A small ranch in San Benito County was the likely source of the
nationwide E. coli outbreak that killed three people and sickened more
than 200 others, state and federal officials said Friday.
Authorities with the California Department of Health Services and the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration - for the first time - said they had
isolated the deadly E. coli strain to sources on Paicines Ranch near a
field it leased to Mission Organics, a spinach grower.
Even with this revelation, federal and state health officials said
during a teleconference they still don't know how the pathogens
contaminated the spinach.
The most likely sources, however, are water or wild hogs, according to
the report. Streams, which run through the ranch and carry manure from
cattle, could have tainted the well water used for irrigation. The ranch
also has a large population of feral pigs that could have spread
contaminated feces, the report says.
Genetic matches were found between E. coli in Dole bagged spinach eaten
by people who fell ill last August and September and the E. coli
detected in 21 samples of soil and feces on or near the ranch.
The Paicines Ranch, which breeds Angus cattle and quarter horses, said
in a statement on its Web site that it leases land to crop growers and
was not under investigation in the outbreak. Ranch officials declined
The report indicates the contamination probably occurred in the Mission
Organics-leased field during or just before harvest, but it goes on to
say the bacteria probably was spread to other spinach during bagging and
processing at Natural Selection's south processing plant in San Juan
But the information does little to help industry leaders take specific
action to protect their produce, even as spinach processors cope with a
roughly 40 percent drop in bagged spinach sales from recent years,
according to a Dole Food Co. representative.
Otto Kramm, chief operations officer for Mission Organics, said in a
statement that his company "has cooperated fully" with the FDA and that
it supports more research into food safety.
"The FDA report is helpful in narrowing the possible sources of the
problem," Kramm said, "but its studies did not find the specific strain
of E. coli that caused the outbreak in any of the fields where the
spinach in question was grown."
Mission Organics can't sell spinach until state health authorities
approve a new plan that shows they corrected their agricultural
practices to minimize bacterial contamination, officials said during the
morning teleconference. The company has said it's repairing broken
fences around its fields, and the report cites groundwater issues on the
ranch as a possible factor in spreading the E. coli. Mission Organic's
spinach fields were in the second year of a three-year transition to
organic production, officials said.
The report also identifies three other ranches where E. coli O157:H7 was
found in the investigation, although the strain present there wasn't a
genetic match to the E. coli that caused the outbreak.
The other three ranches were identified as Wickstrom Ranch in Aromas,
Taix Ranch in Hollister and Eade Ranch south of San Lucas.
State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, a vocal critic of produce
industry-led voluntary food safety guidelines, lambasted the report in a
statement, saying none of the farms identified have been fined. He
accused state and federal health officials of "relegating themselves to
'simple spectators' by reiterating recommendations made in the past and
failing to provide an action plan."
Ranchers aren't happy with the report, either. The FDA should have
provided each of the farms named in the report with a copy to prepare
them for the flurry of media, industry and government scrutiny, said
Jeff Gilles of Salinas-based Lombardo and Gilles, a law firm
representing Kramm, especially because the report contains inaccuracies.
"It would have been in FDA's best interest to meet with farmers to
review the report," Gilles said in an e-mail, "in order to correct
certain information provided therein."
Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney representing 93 people sickened
from the outbreak, said he will decide in the next few weeks whether to
add the three other farms to his lawsuits, which already target Mission
Natural Selection criticized
Also already named in Marler's lawsuits are Dole Fresh Vegetables and
Natural Selection Foods, which were targeted by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation during visits to the companies last fall. In the report
released Friday, investigators pay particular attention to Natural
Selection's south facility - one of its two plants in San Juan Bautista
- where the contaminated spinach was processed and bagged. It lays out
numerous problems with the company's food safety program.
On Aug. 15, Natural Selection Foods processed the 13 bags of Dole baby
spinach that tested positive for the outbreak strain type. A total 34
brands of fresh bagged spinach packaged at the facility were pulled from
shelves when the FDA issued its Sept. 14 advisory not to eat such produce.
The report states that from Aug. 15 to 26, Natural Selection Foods
didn't conduct its normal sanitation testing and that discrepancies
occurred between sanitation schedules and the company's sanitation
procedures on the frequency of cleaning for certain areas of the south
"Information and documents obtained from NSF revealed the firm did not
update or review (food safety) procedures ... already in use at the
north facility prior to initiation of production at the south facility,"
the report said.
Additionally, starting Aug. 13 the company experienced almost a week of
chronic labor shortages in its south facility for quality assurance
testing and cleaning the facility.
Natural Selection Foods also operated the facility from April 1 to Sept.
15 last year without a license from the California Department of Health
Replying to questions, Natural Selection Foods' spokeswoman Samantha
Cabaluna said the company's "commitment to food safety is unwavering,
and we are taking an aggressive stance on the issue."
The company also hasn't thoroughly vetted the report, Cabaluna said.
The statement also highlighted the company's overhauled food safety
program, which it said includes "multiple barriers and extensive
pathogen-specific testing" for both its growers and processing facility.
"We believe our salads are safer than ever before," it says.
Report will help
Although the evidence from the spinach outbreak points to one crop, food
safety investigators call the problem of contamination multifaceted,
complicated and unable to be pinpointed to just one source.
But the report's findings, as well as information gathered at two public
hearings, will help the FDA find ways to prevent future outbreaks, said
David Acheson, the FDA's chief medical officer and head of the Center
for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
"There is a need for uniform application of good agricultural practices
and good manufacturing practices," Acheson said, "because without them,
clearly the potential for illness associated with leafy greens is still
Produce-related illnesses are a rising problem, with 72 outbreaks in the
past 10 years associated with fresh fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens
have been blamed in 22 outbreaks, followed by tomatoes and melons.
While it's impossible to completely eliminate the risk of E. coli
contamination in leafy greens, said Kevin Reilly, deputy director of
prevention services for the state Health Department, the report points
to ways to reduce risk factors through proper food safety practices.
"If we can put into place good agricultural practices on the farm level
on every field to reduce the risk, then we can manage the risk and
prevent food borne illnesses," Reilly said.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and LOS ANGELES TIMES contributed to this report.
Contact Dawn Withers at email@example.com.
E. coli that tainted spinach traced to San Benito County cattle ranch
By Brandon Bailey
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:03/23/2007 09:07:17 AM PDT
The spinach responsible for last fall's nationwide outbreak of illness
and death was likely grown by a company called Mission Organics on a
ranch in San Benito County, state and federal officials said today.
As reported by the Mercury News earlier this week, officials said they
weren't able to determine exactly how the spinach became contaminated,
despite an unprecedented six-month investigation.
But they said samples taken from manure, water and a dead pig found on
the ranch were an exact genetic match to the deadly strain of E. coli
bacteria that killed at least three people and sickened more than 200
Any of those sources could have led to the contamination, said Dean
Cliver, a microbiologist and professor of food safety at the University
of California, Davis.
State and federal health officials issued their report this morning and
planned to discuss it at a news conference later today.
An attorney for Mission Organics, a Hollister company that grew the
spinach, has previously said the company doesn't believe it was
responsible for the outbreak. The company has been named in a lawsuit
filed by an attorney representing dozens of people who became sick, but
health officials have not confirmed the name before today.
But health investigators said they traced the contaminated batch of
bagged spinach, which was sold under the Dole label, to one batch
processed by Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista. The spinach
in that batch came from four farms in the area.
Investigators found traces of deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria at all
four farms, but only the samples from the Mission Organics site were an
exact genetic match to the strain implicated in the outbreak.
While E. coli is often found in the intestinal tracts of cows and can be
transmitted through their manure, investigators will probably never know
exactly how the bacteria got onto the spinach, according to Dr. David
Acheson, a top food-safety official for the U.S. Food and Drug
However, investigators have theorized that the bacteria could have been
spread by a cow or pig that wandered through the field, or through
contaminated irrigation water.
The field is part of the Paicines Ranch, a large property that is
primarily used to raise cattle. Owners of the ranch have said they are
not responsible for any crops grown by companies that lease portions of
The final investigation report can be viewed at: http://www.dhs.ca.gov
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