A quick re-cap: 14 are ill across 6 states with E. coli O145 (Alabama (2), California (1), Florida (1), Georgia (5), Louisiana (4), Tennessee (1)). The dates when those people became ill range from April 15 to May 12, 2012. We are also investigating the confirmed E. coli illnesses of people from at least one other state. The CDC’s statement today indicates that they have not yet identified the cause of illness. See Efoodalert’s “CDC Statement on E. coli O145 Outbreak Investigation.”
E. coli O145 is one of the “big six” strains of shiga-toxin producing non-O157 E. coli. It is not the first time we have seen this bug. Most memorably, E. coli O145 sickened at least 33 people in several states back in 2010 in an outbreak ultimately linked to romaine lettuce processed by Freshway, an Ohio distributor, and grown by an unnamed farm in Arizona. We sued those entities on behalf of a number of folks sickened in the outbreak.
But what was the true cause of the outbreak? Thanks to Food Poison Journal’s readers, we are reminded that the likely cause of the lettuce contamination was an ill-placed RV park. Or maybe it was the lettuce field that was ill-placed. In any event, the FDA’s environmental assessment after that outbreak found as follows:
An R.V. park is located on a knoll directly above the lateral irrigation canal that supplies water to the suspect fields. The R.V. park is serviced by eight on-site septic leach systems. During this investigation we found evidence of drainage from the R.V. park property directly into the lateral irrigation canal. Of particular concern was an area that exhibited evidence of drainage into the irrigation canal in which the soil was moist; no surface source of the moisture was observed and there had not been any recent rains.
Soil samples from these moist drainage areas tested negative for STEC. Non–O157 STEC Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2)-producing E. coli was detected in two drag swabs and one mud sample collected from the irrigation canal adjacent to the R.V. park; but none were the O145 shiga toxin 2-producing outbreak strain. We determined that the R.V. park is a reasonably likely potential source of the outbreak pathogen based upon the evidence of direct drainage into the lateral irrigation canal; the moist soil in this drainage area; the multiple sewage leach systems on the property; the presence of other STEC found in the lateral irrigation canal and in the growing fields of the suspect farm; and the fact that the section of the lateral canal downstream from the R.V. park supplies water to only one other farm in addition to the suspect farm.
Two pumps are located on the main Wellton canal near the lateral canal split that supplies water to fields of the suspect farm; one gasoline powered pump on a trailer and one permanent electric pump with an attached hose. The electric pump supplies canal water to an attached open-end hose. The site is not secured from vehicles and the hose pump is also unsecured. At the time of this investigation there were people living in recreational vehicles on undeveloped land within one mile of the hose pump. The fact that this area is open to vehicles and the pump and hose are unsecured make it possible for an R.V. owner to dump and rinse out their R.V. septic system into the main Wellton canal at the lateral canal split that supplies the farm. The ground near the hose pump shows erosion evidence of drainage into the Wellton canal. Soil collected from this erosion site tested positive for other Stx2-producing STEC, but did not match the outbreak strain.
Yuck. Fortunately nobody died in the 2010 E. coli O145 outbreak. Same cannot be said here.