The findings of an E. coli O157:H7 study conducted by the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at UC-Davis were recently presented by lead author, Michele Jay-Russell, and the results suggest the infamous bacteria is actually not common in California’s "salad bowl" region.  As reported by Don Schrack in The Packer:

Over a two-year period, a research team collected and tested more than 1,130 fecal samples from wild birds and mammals at nearly 40 farms in Monterey, San Benito and San Luis Obispo counties, a region often called California’s salad bowl.

The bacterium was found in 20 samples from cowbirds (2), crows (5), coyotes (2), feral pigs (10) and one deer mouse. Samples from deer, opossums, raccoons, skunks, squirrels and other bird and mouse species tested negative, according to the study.

A total of 200 samples came from feral pigs, with 5% testing positive for the E. coli strain. Feral pigs were commonly found in the area where the spinach in the 2006 outbreak was grown, although a 6-month investigation into the cause of the outbreak didn’t establish a definitive link.

An earlier Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found about 15% of feral pigs tested from the area were positive for that E. coli strain, as were 34% of cattle. One of the four farms implicated in the outbreak was about a mile from a [grass-fed beef operation].

According to Ms. Jay-Russell, there are a number of things to take away from the study’s findings, including:

  • growers should take prompt action if wildlife is present in large numbers;
  • follow good agricultural practices to protect crops from contamination during production and harvest; and
  • maintain proper refrigeration along the entire chain, including at the consumer’s home.

In addition, consumers also can exacerbate the problem when trying to prevent possible pathogen contamination, therefore “if a product is triple-washed, we don’t recommend another wash in the home, because it opens the possibility of cross contamination,” Jay-Russell said.