What is known is that 24 people have been sickened in 15 states, and that a variety of Farm Rich not-fully-cooked products have been implicated as the outbreak’s cause. The E. coli tainted Farm Rich products were distributed to Walmart stores nationally for retail sale. Rich Products Corporation (from Buffalo, NY), which is the manufacturer of Farm Rich products, has recalled more than 196,000 pounds of frozen chicken quesadilla and various other heat-treated, not-fully-cooked frozen mini meals and snack items. Further, each of the recalled items, which can be seen in this list of Farm Rich E. coli contaminated food items, contains the establishment number “EST. 27232″ or “P-27232″ inside the USDA mark of inspection.
Now for the unknowns. CDC has yet (as of 8:30 EST on 3/29) to post an outbreak announcement on Farm Rich’s E. coli outbreak. We do not yet know all of the affected 15 states. The known states are Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, so there is clustering in the northeast, with outliers in the south and upper midwest.
Most prominently, we do not know, and likely the CDC does not yet know either, the original source of contamination, or the “root cause” of the outbreak. Other than all of them being Farm Rich, not-fully-cooked products, the recalled products seem to range widely. Mozzerella bites, pizza, quesadillas, and philly cheese steaks. Is it an ingredient common to all, or a problem at the plant. All products do bear the same establishment number, which suggests that they all were manufactured at the same place. But O121, like other strains of STEC, (in contrast to a bug like Salmonella), are not as often associated with harborage and persistence in a manufacturing environment. More likely, the Farm Rich E. coli outbreak is a common ingredient outbreak. Hopefully the CDC will let us know soon.