A Newberg, Oregon hazelnut packer, George Packing Co., has refused to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a list of its suppliers as part of a recent E. coli outbreak investigation. Despite the clear epidemiological link to the hazelnuts, the company claims “propriety” information and the fact that no sampled hazelnuts have thus far have been confirmed positive for E. coli O157:H7 as the basis for the refusal.
Meteuszs Perkowski of the Capital Press interviewed some of the parties involved in the investigation:
Polly Owen, manager of the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board, said most producers would prefer not to be visited by regulators from the FDA, but the decision whether to turn over supplier lists is ultimately up to handlers.
“We’re not going to try to tell any industry packer what they need to do,” Owen said.
The March 5 recall was prompted by seven instances of E. coli illness in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin that occurred in December and January, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Typically, it takes several weeks after people become ill for health officials to identify an outbreak.
According to news releases issued by state health departments involved in the E. coli outbreak investigation, several outbreak victims were hospitalized due to the severity of their E. coli infections. All case-patients had illness onsets between Dec. 20 and Jan. 28.
The public health investigation into the source of the outbreak revealed that the hazelnuts were sold by DeFranco and Sons, Inc. of Los Angeles, California, under the brand names Sunripe, George Packing, Firestorm Farms and Northwest Hazelnut. The E. coli-contaminated hazelnuts are believed to have been brown in Oregon, where most of the nation’s hazelnuts are grown.
E. coli O157:H7 is a bacterium that causes foodborne illness. Symptoms of E. coli infection include abdominal cramping and diarrhea, which can become bloody. In severe cases, E. coli can cause kidney failure or even death.