November 13, 2019

University of Arizona Scientists Examine Yuma Romaine E. coli Outbreak

University of Arizona (UA) scientists are examining the Yuma romaineĀ E. coli O157:H7 HUS outbreak linked to lettuce from that Arizona growing area to look at growing practices and the environment. That outbreak was the sixth largest of 2018. In all, 210 people in 36 states were sickened, 96 people were hospitalized, and five people, who lived in Arkansas, California, Minnesota, and New York, died. Twenty-seven of those patients developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.

University of Arizona Scientists Examine Yuma Romaine E. coli Outbreak

This study is meant to provide recommendations to growers, packers, and distributors toward enhanced food safety. The FDA, the Arizona Department of Agriculture, and state partners conducted an environmental assessment in 2018 that narrowed the scope of the outbreak. The outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was found in canal waters in the area, but no specific farm, grower, or distributor was named.

University of Arizona researchers are working with the FDA, Yuma Area Leafy Greens Industry, and the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District. They want to assess sources of microbial contamination in the area, and look at the prevalence and persistence of pathogens in the ecosystem.

Channah Rock, UA professor and extension specialist said in a statement “University of Arizona assistants in extension, students and staff will be collecting and examining samples from the environment such as surface water, canal sediment and dust. The team will also be collecting scat samples to assess the impact that animal intrusion and native wildlife in the area may have on the growing environment.”

Researchers hope that the study will shed new light on how different environmental influences on bacterial persistence and distribution in the Yuma area affect the risk of produce being contaminated. This may, they think, lead to improved growing and harvesting practices. They plan on recommending best management practices to enhance food safety in the area.

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