Lettuce, ground beef recalls spur new E coli concerns

Oct 9, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – A Salinas Valley produce company recalled its green leaf lettuce yesterday because of possible Escherichia coli contamination, only 2 days after an Iowa meat producer recalled about 5,200 pounds of its ground beef for the same reason.

Both recalls involve the same O157:H5 E coli strain that has sickened 199 people and killed 3 in a national outbreak linked to spinach, but the source of the contamination is not the same.

Water contamination prompts lettuce recall
The voluntary lettuce recall, by the Nunes Company, Inc., of Salinas, Calif., applies to green leaf lettuce that carries the code 6SL0024, sold Oct 3 to Oct 6 under the Foxy brand, according to a company press release. The products were distributed in Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana to retail stores and other distributors that may have sold the product to restaurants.

No illnesses have been reported, according the company.

Nunes said 97% of the affected cartons had been located and either destroyed or set aside for destruction. The company said it was still working to locate 250 remaining cartons.

"This is a precautionary measure based upon the recent events in the produce industry, our concern for our customers and a concern about the product," Nunes Vice President Tom Nunes, Jr, told Reuters yesterday.

Nunes said it recalled the green leaf lettuce when it was discovered that water used to irrigate the product may have been contaminated with E coli. Further investigation showed that the source of the contamination may have been temporary use of a secondary water source, which initially tested positive for E coli. The company said tests were being done on samples of recalled products.

The green leaf lettuce that is the focus of the recall is from one farm, according to the Reuters report.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesperson Julie Zawisza told Reuters that the FDA expects the firm to identify the source of contamination and take steps to correct the problem so it doesn't occur again.

The lettuce recall and the spinach E coli outbreak occurred less than 2 months after the FDA launched the Lettuce Safety Initiative,  a broad investigation into farms and processors of lettuce and other leafy greens in California's Salinas Valley.

Nineteen US outbreaks of E coli O157:H7 from lettuce and spinach have occurred since 1995, and eight have been traced to Salinas Valley. These eight outbreaks have affected 217 people in eight states, including two elderly patients from northern California who died in 2003.

More cases and deaths from contaminated spinach
Meanwhile, the number of sickened people in the nationwide outbreak of O157:H7 linked to fresh spinach grew to 199 late last week, representing an increase of seven since Oct 4, according to FDA's latest press release.

One hundred and two people (51%) were hospitalized, and one more case of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious kidney condition, has been reported, bringing that total to 31. The outbreak has affected people in 26 states and one Canadian.

Three deaths have now been linked to the outbreak strain; newly added to the count are a 2-year-old Idaho boy and an elderly Nebraska woman. Health officials are awaiting results on a fourth possible outbreak-related death, that of an elderly woman from Maryland.

Thirteen product samples have now been confirmed to contain the outbreak strain, two more than previously reported. The FDA has said that all spinach connected to the current outbreak has been traced to Natural Selection Foods, a company that packages more than 30 brands of fresh spinach and that supplies spinach to other produce companies.

Federal investigators searched two production facilities last week, one of which was a Natural Selection Foods plant, for possible food safety or environmental violations. The FDA said federal and state authorities are still doing inspections, collecting samples, and studying animal management and water use in the production and growing areas that have been traced to the E coli outbreak.

The FDA said it will hold a public meeting to address the issue of contaminated leafy greens later this year after the current investigation is complete.

E coli suspected in ground beef
In other E coli news, an Iowa company on Oct 6 voluntarily recalled 5,226 pounds of ground beef that may be contaminated with E coli O157:H5, according to a press release from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Microbiological testing alerted authorities to possible contamination, the USDA said, adding that it had not received any reports of illness related to consumption of the product.

The packages, produced by Jim's Market and Locker, Inc., of Harlan, Ia., bear the number "Est. 2424" inside the USDA inspection mark. The ground beef was produced on Aug 31 and Sep 1 and distributed to one retail outlet in Iowa and distributors in Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The Iowa ground beef recall is the largest to occur since early August, when a Tennessee company recalled 4,300 pounds because of possible E coli O157:H5 contamination, according to an Oct 7 Associated Press report.

Other cases stump health officials
Investigators are still trying to determine the source in several E coli cases in Wisconsin and Canada.

In Wisconsin, seven E coli cases were reported to the Manitowoc County Health Department between Aug 30 and Sep 11, according to a weekend report in the Manitowoc Herald Times. One was in the 77-year-old woman whose death was the first to be linked to contaminated fresh spinach from California. Another was linked to animal exposure at a private farm. No information was given for one case.

Four cases have been linked to events at the Manitowoc County Expo grounds. In two of these, direct contact with animals occurred. In the other two, however, no animal contact was reported. Samples were collected from 50 sites in the dairy and show barns as part of the investigation; two samples collected from bleachers in the show barn were positive for E coli.

The source of the contamination still has not been determined, but Amy Wergin, a county public health nurse, told the Herald Times that manure contaminated with E coli could have been transferred to the bleachers from foot traffic or clothing.

Wergin said the bleachers were cleaned with disinfectant and the health department would implement other preventive measures, including posting signs that warn Expo attendees not to eat while in the barns.

In Canada, Ontario health officials have ruled out contaminated spinach as the cause of E coli outbreaks in two cities, according to an Oct 6 Bloomberg News report. Between Sep 21 and Sep 26, 20 residents of Hamilton, about 43 miles southwest of Toronto, were diagnosed with E coli infections. Over the same time period, cases were also found in Sudbury, about 240 miles north of Toronto.

Officials suspect a link between the illnesses and believe it may be food, but they have not yet determined the source, said CanWest News Service in a report 2 days ago.

See also:

Oct 6 FDA press release
http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2006/ucm108761.htm

Oct 6 USDA press release
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Recall_029_2006_Release/index.asp

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