Lab tests confirmed that deer feces found in strawberry fields in Oregon were the source of E. coli 0157:H7 infections that killed one person and sickened at least 14 others, Oregon Public Health Division officials confirmed Wednesday.
“There were six samples that positively matched the E. coli that was found in the people who were infected,” said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, Oregon Public Health state epidemiologist.
Wild animals and livestock (pastured livestock, as well as those in concentrated animal feeding operations) can carry harmful E. coli and shed it in their excrement. And deer have been identified as the source of previous illness clusters. In 1995, the outbreak strain of E. coli associated with venison jerky was found in deer feces. Deer droppings were also the likely source of the E. coli O157:H7 found in unpasteurized Odwalla apple juice in 1996.
Berries from the affected fields in Newberg, Oregon were grown by Jaquith Strawberry Farm. Jaquith sold some of its strawberries to other vendors, who then resold them at roadside stands, farms stands and farmers’ markets. Reselling another farm’s produce is not permitted in Oregon, “but more common than we thought,” investigators said.
Jaquith recalled its berries and is cooperating fully with the outbreak investigation, Oregon public health officials said. Recalls of 4,800 flats of Jaquith berries were also announced by Ron Spada Farms of Portland. Growers Outlet also recalled Jaquith berries.
Oregon’s local strawberry season ended in late July, so fresh berries are no longer on the market, but health officials remain concerned about berries that were frozen or made into uncooked jam. Those berries should be thrown out, Hedberg said.