As of Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, there were 13 confirmed cases of E. coli O111 infection being linked to unpasteurized apple juice from High Hill Ranch near Placerville, CA. An investigation by state and county health and environmental officials is continuing into the source of the problem. According to the Sacramento County Department of Health & Human Services, 11 of those sickened reside in Sacramento County, one lives in Yolo County, and one is from Contra Costa County. One person was hospitalized. They reportedly became ill in mid-October after buying the raw apple juice for home consumption or being served it at the ranch. “The California Food and Drug Branch is looking into it, and basically we are also working with them, but in terms of the environmental sampling that was done, sampling of the juice, that was all done by the state,” Greg Stanton, director of the El Dorado County Environmental Management Division, told Food Safety News. (Placerville is in El Dorado County.) Ron Owens, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, said Friday that more information about the state’s role in the outbreak investigation would be available next week. On Oct. 23, High Hill Ranch recalled its own brand of unpasteurized apple juice sold after Oct. 6 and substituted a flash-pasteurized brand of apple juice. While an Oct. 11 sample of the ranch’s unpasteurized apple juice tested positive for the E. coli bacteria, other tests of the product by the California Department of Public Health were negative. Ranch owners Jerry and Michelle Visman issued a statement after the problem arose expressing regret about the illnesses, suggesting that customers may have inadvertently passed an illness along, and noting that they would no longer be handing out free samples of their apple juice. “It was recently brought to our attention by the health department that in mid-October, some people reported getting sick after visiting our ranch. We are very sorry for this. There is some speculation that it may have been caused by drinking the apple juice. We have always offered free samples at our juice-making facility, so that the people could try the juice before buying it. Unfortunately, hundreds of people touch the filler nozzle everyday to fill the sample cups. With so many people getting sick this time of the year this very well could have spread a virus to the sample jug. We regret that for health concerns, the free samples will have to discontinue. “We are also having the juice tested as a precaution to make absolutely sure all is well, because after making juice for 50 years and not having any complaints, we want to make sure that the good track record continues. Most people have probably already drank the juice they brought but our friends at the health department think it prudent to discard what’s left. The testing will be done in short order on our juice. Until then, we have the excellent Barsotti Apple juice along with all their other great products.” The ranch owners plan to issue another statement about the situation in the near future, according to an employee who answered the phone at High Hill Ranch on Friday. Meanwhile, on Nov. 5, the El Dorado County Health Department in Placerville released the following timeline in a fact sheet about the outbreak investigation:
- “On Oct. 23, 2015, according to the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services, there were at least seven (7) cases of E. coli illness among residents of Sacramento County who consumed unpasteurized apple juice either sampled at or purchased from High Hill Ranch between Oct. 10 and Oct. 12, 2015.
- On Oct. 23, 2015, High Hill Ranch voluntarily discontinued the processing, sale and distribution of unpasteurized apple juice currently in stock. Unpasteurized apple juice was replaced with a flash pasteurized apple juice product produced and bottled by another local vendor.
- On Oct. 23, 2015, the County of El Dorado issued a press release advising the public of a voluntary recall of unpasteurized apple juice initiated by High Hill Ranch due to suspected contamination with bacteria, likely a strain of E. coli. Consumers were advised not to consume unpasteurized apple juice purchased on or after Oct. 6, 2015, and to dispose of any remaining product.
- On Oct. 29, 2015, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) notified the county that there were thirteen (13) ill patients associated with the consumption of unpasteurized apple juice from High Hill Ranch. Three (3) of these patients were laboratory confirmed with E. coli 0111. Two (2) additional patients were subsequently confirmed to have E. coli 0111.
- On Oct. 30, 2015, High Hill Ranch notified the county that they had submitted samples of unpasteurized apple juice to an independent laboratory for testing for E. coli 0111. The juice samples tested were from a separate and subsequent production run after the suspected processing period that may have contained harmful bacteria.
- On Nov. 4, 2015, the county was notified by the CDPH that a sample of unpasteurized juice obtained from one of the ill Sacramento County patients had tested positive for E. coli 0111.
- On Nov. 5, 2015, the county was notified by the CDPH that all laboratory samples collected from High Hill Ranch on October 21, 2015, by CDPH were negative for the presence of E. coli 0111.
High Hill Ranch has voluntarily discontinued the production and sale of unpasteurized apple juice indefinitely. No other High Hill Ranch products are being investigated. High Hill Ranch continues to fully cooperate with local and state health officials during this ongoing investigation.”
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