U.S. health officials say they’ve traced a dangerous bacterial outbreak in romaine lettuce to at least one farm on the Central Coast.
Health officials say the strain of E. coli blamed in the outbreak was found in the sediment of an irrigation reservoir at Adam Brothers Farms in Santa Maria. The owners are cooperating with U.S. officials and have stopped shipping produce. Santa Barbara County Supervisor Peter Adam is the Vice President of the farm, according to the county website.
The government had previously narrowed down the source of the E. coli outbreak to Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Benito counties.
Food regulators say there are likely other farms also involved in the E. coli outbreak, and people need to keep checking the label before they buy romaine lettuce. The FDA says lettuce from other areas that was harvested after November 23 is safe to eat.
“What we are seeing is there are multiple distributors and multiple processors and multiple farms that show up in the various legs of that traceback and they don’t all lead back specifically to this farm,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Senior Advisor to the FDA commissioner. “We are not in a position to conclude that this the only location that may have been involved in the outbreak.”
It’s unclear how E. coli got into the reservoir at the Adam Brothers farm, but health experts say it’s possible it could have been from wild animal intrusion. The strain that makes people sick is found in the digestive tracts of cattle, sheep, deer, and other animals. It can get into manure and then be found in soil and water.
Adam Brothers farm is focused on produce, not on domestic animals for slaughter.
“Obviously, based on this finding, we will be doing a much more thorough investigation,” Ostroff said.
The CDC says 59 people across 15 states have now been sickened in the outbreak, which started in October. 23 were sick enough to be hospitalized. Canadian health officials also reported 27 cases linked to the outbreak.
At first, health officials told people to stop eating romaine lettuce completely. Late last month, they narrowed the outbreak down to six counties. Now, just three counties are still listed: Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Benito.