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Auditor Gave Positive Food Safety Reviews to Farms Later Linked to Outbreaks

The third-party food safety auditor that gave a passing review to Jensen Farms just weeks before its cantaloupe caused a deadly Listeria outbreak in 2011 also gave a positive audit to the farm that shipped romaine lettuce implicated in a more recent E. coli outbreak tied to Trader Joe’s branded salads, according to documents obtained by Food Safety News.

California-based PrimusLabs gave a score of more than 95 percent to Ratto Bros. farms in Modesto, CA, in August 2013. Two months later, in October 2013, at least 33 people fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 in an outbreak that implicated as the most likely source of contamination romaine lettuce distributed by Ratto Bros., grown by Lake Bottom Farms, and sold in Trader Joe’s and Walgreen’s salads.

After the E. coli outbreak, officials with the California Department of Health visited Ratto Bros. and took environmental samples nearby. Five out of 44 samples tested positive for E. coli, though the samples were not a genetic match with the outbreak strain and were not taken on the farm.

PrimusLabs originally scored Ratto Bros. at 95.91 percent out of 100 for food safety management and good agricultural practices. The farm lost points for having animal activity on one ranch in the form of birds, as well as having dogs on adjacent land and a water source — a canal — that was accessible to animals.

After Ratto Bros. was given an opportunity for corrective action, PrimusLabs improved their score to 99.32, with the remaining lone problem being that animals still technically had access to the canal despite the farm taking a number of other steps to prevent contamination of the canal water.

PrimusLabs gave a similarly high score to Jensen Farms in the summer of 2011, just weeks before consumers began falling ill in August 2011 with Listeria infections from cantaloupes grown at the farm. At least 146 people were sickened and 33 died from their infections.

 

© Food Safety News
  • Amorette

    Remind me not to hire Primus Labs unless I run a sloppy operation.

  • Drew

    So from the sounds of it neither the State of California nor the Auditor know where the bacteria came from….E.coli is found pretty much everywhere, the statement about 5 out of 44 being positive and don’t match, no smoking gun, in truth isn’t even relevent. The real question is, where did the contamination come from? Without that you don’t know if the farm took the proper preventive actions or not. Guessing isn’t the equivalent of throwing a grenade…….

  • Erica

    They took samples that did not provide a positive match and were not even from the farm? Give me a break. Wash your produce. Don’t sue farmers.

    • Jonathan

      Washing your produce is not necessarily going to get rid of enough bacteria to make it “safe” to eat.. especially when it is something like E. coli 0157:h7 which only takes 10-100 cells to make someone sick.

  • DiscusBS

    Dairies are all around Ratto’s as is dairy waste. Should be no surprise that fields were contaminated. Government sampling after the fact seldom leads to a direct connection as the fields have usually already been plowed under by that time. If it is not ready it should not be marketed as ready to eat.