State and federal officials investigating a multistate non-O157 E. coli outbreak went into the weekend without naming either the exact strain or food source involved.
On background, food safety experts say the likely strain involved is E. coli O145 and the investigation into the food source is said to be focused on a specific distribution company. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has yet to issue a report on the ongoing investigation.
The outbreak appears to have claimed victims in three states, New York, Ohio, and Michigan. Public health officials in those states say laboratory work has confirmed 15 cases with another 32 suspected.
Ohio’s E. coli cases are centered in Columbus. Washtenaw County, which includes Ann Arbor, is getting most of the Michigan cases. Daemen College in Buffalo, NY is the third E. coli hotspot.
Reports on food testing by the states is not shedding much light on the outbreak, except to rule things out. None of the food samples tested by Michigan were contaminated with E. coli. Officials were not surprised because the samples were collected after people developed symptoms of infection.
Ohio declined to say what food samples were being tested and said it would not do so unless something is connected to the outbreak. Either way, results were not available.
Non-O157 strains of E. coli are not defined as adulterants by the federal government even though they can cause sickness and death.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been petitioned by victims of non-O157 outbreaks to declare those strains as adulterants if found in meat and poultry, but has not yet taken any action.
The non-O157 E. coli victims are represented in the petition by Marler Clark, the food safety law firm based in Seattle. Retail giant Walmart this week announced it would begin requiring its meat suppliers to test for non-O157 strains of E. coli just as it already does for O157:H7 E. coli, and will reject lots that test positive.