Following reports that fresh strawberries sold at Oregon roadside stands and farmers markets were the likely source of at least 10 E. coli O157:H7 infections, one fatal, the Seattle-based food safety law firm Marler Clark donated $5,000 to the Food Alliance of Portland.

The Food Alliance, according to its website, “provides comprehensive third-party certification for social and environmental responsibility in agriculture and the food industry.”

In a news release, Marler Clark managing partner Bill Marler, publisher of Food Safety News, said the firm is asking that the donation be used to promote small agriculture food safety.  Earlier this year, after a number of sprouts-related outbreaks and recalls, Marler Clark donated $10,000 to the International Sprout Growers Association to help reduce the potential risks involved in sprout production.

“This unfortunate outbreak provides a perfect opportunity for the strawberry industry to immediately reflect on its practices, and find ways to prevent the contamination problems that other segments of the produce industry have seen,” Marler said in the prepared statement.

Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated with animal excrement in a variety of ways, and thus may carry pathogens. In 2006, after five people died and 238 were sickened by E. coli traced to bagged spinach, investigators implicated wild pigs as the source of the dangerous bacteria.  In Oregon, public health authorities suspect the strawberries may have come in contact with deer feces. 

“It is our hope that this donation will ensure that best practices promoting improved food safety among small farms become more widely available,” Marler said, noting this was the first known E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to fresh strawberries.  “Small farms may not have the same degree of resources or access to knowledge about food safety practices as larger food producers, but a lack of these things is no excuse when it comes to a deadly E. coli outbreak.”