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Food Safety News

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Letter From The Editor: Yuma

We wish foodborne illness investigations moved faster.  But, as we’ve been told time and time again, “this isn’t CSI.”

There is nothing we at Food Safety News can do about that.   Last week, however, we did something we should be doing more of in the future.   We took readers to the place that’s probably responsible for the outbreak, and painted a series of pictures on what might have happened by relying on our own experts.

To do so, we sent our Washington D.C.-based reporters, Helena Bottemiller and Zach Mallove across country to the Arizona border town of Yuma, near the site of the lettuce grower believed to be responsible for a rare outbreak of E. coli O145.

During the time they were on the ground in Arizona, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta announced the O145 outbreak had expanded to four states.

Tennessee is the latest state with O145 victims.  With Michigan, New York, and Ohio added, CDC said there were 23 confirmed and 7 probable cases in the four states.

Most troubling is that three of the 30 patients have gone on to kidney failure with hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.   A 10 percent HUS rate in an outbreak is considered high, perhaps unusually high.

And there’s the nationwide recall of romaine lettuce by Ohio-based Freshway Foods, which bought that Arizona lettuce.

These multistate investigations involve local, state, and federal food investigators.  In the end, they reach authoritative conclusions and almost for history, we will know what actually happened.  

For the stake of the daily news cycle, we sent Helena and Zack to Yuma searching for answers.   As they explained in the three part series “How Did E coli O145 Contaminate Lettuce” we published last week:

“The supply chain from the field to the supermarket is a long one, with many potential points along the way for contamination to occur. Where did the lettuce pick up E. coli O145, a pathogen found primarily in cattle and wildlife feces? According to the latest out of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), investigators are focusing on an undisclosed farm in Yuma, Arizona, which could be linked to the outbreak. If the contamination did occur on the farm, how could it have happened?”

They went on to examine how feedlots distant from lettuce fields could become contaminated in a desert environment through wind and irrigation water among other possibilities.

With the help of our many expert readers, who make these kinds of stories possible, we will probably be doing more stories laying out theories for outbreaks where the final chapter won’t be written for many months.

As always we want your opinion on what we are doing.

Until next week.

© Food Safety News