‘Selling produce for over 20 years with never a Salmonella to be seen’ Shoppers go local in outbreaks

With one dead and almost 300 sick from Salmonella in cucumbers from Mexico, the buy local refrain is once again trumped as the solution to food safety woes.

animal.house.cucumberSorta easy to do in North America at the end of summer.

Sweet Water Nursery owner Tom Karakalos and his wife farm their food just seven miles west of Creswell in Oregon. They say they take pride in their organic and uncontaminated product, especially in the midst of this Salmonella outbreak.

“It’s never been a problem for us,” says Erica Trappe. “We’ve been selling produce for over 20 years with never a Salmonella to be seen.”

Maybe their bacteria-sensing goggles are fuzzy.

Customers John and Olivia O’Hare are taking action by only shopping local-. They say they’re avoiding the potential of contaminated produce.
“Who knows what’s on it,” says John O’Hare. “Who knows what you’re going to be ingesting with the food. I never get that aspect here.”

Unless the outbreak is local. And that happens too.


1 dead, 284 sick from Salmonella in US outbreak linked to imported cucumbers

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:

  • Since July 3, 2015, 285 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Poona have been reported from 27 states.
  • 53 ill people have been hospitalized, and one death has been reported from California.
  • cucumbers54% of ill people are children younger than 18 years.
  • Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations have identified imported cucumbers from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce as a likely source of the infections in this outbreak.
  • 58 (73%) of 80 people interviewed reported eating cucumbers in the week before their illness began.
  • Eleven illness clusters have been identified in seven states. In all of these clusters, interviews found that cucumbers were a food item eaten in common by ill people.
  • The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency isolated Salmonella from cucumbers collected during a visit to the Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce facility.
  • On September 4, 2015, Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce voluntarily recalled all cucumbers sold under the “Limited Edition” brand label during the period from August 1, 2015 through September 3, 2015 because they may be contaminated with Salmonella.
  • The type of cucumber is often referred to as a “slicer” or “American” cucumber and is dark green in color. Typical length is 7 to 10 inches.
  • Limited Edition cucumbers were distributed in the states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Further distribution to other states may have occurred.
  • Consumers should not eat, restaurants should not serve, and retailers should not sell recalled cucumbers.
  • If you aren’t sure if your cucumbers were recalled, ask the place of purchase or your supplier. When in doubt, don’t eat, sell, or serve them and throw them out.
  • CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System laboratory is conducting antibiotic resistance testing on clinical isolates collected from ill people infected with the outbreak strains; results will be reported when they become available.
  • This investigation is ongoing. CDC will provide updates when more information is available.

CDC, multiple states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Poona infections linked to imported cucumbers from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.

salm.cucumber.sep.15Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. PulseNet, the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories, is coordinated by CDC. DNA “fingerprinting” is performed on Salmonella bacteria isolated from ill people by using a technique called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, or PFGE. PulseNet manages a national database of these DNA “fingerprints” to identify possible outbreaks. Three DNA “fingerprints” (outbreak strains) are included in this investigation.

As of September 3, 2015, 285 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Poona have been reported from 27 states. The number of ill people reported from each state is as follows: Alaska (8), Arizona (60), Arkansas (6), California (51), Colorado (14), Idaho (8), Illinois (5), Kansas (1), Louisiana (3), Minnesota (12), Missouri (7), Montana (11), Nebraska (2), Nevada (7), New Mexico (15), New York (4), North Dakota (1), Ohio (2), Oklahoma (5), Oregon (3), South Carolina (6), Texas (9), Utah (30), Virginia (1), Washington (9), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (3).

Among people for whom information is available, illnesses started on dates ranging from July 3, 2015 to August 26, 2015. Ill people range in age from less than 1 year to 99, with a median age of 13. Fifty-four percent of ill people are children younger than 18 years. Fifty-seven percent of ill people are female. Among 160 people with available information, 53 (33%) report being hospitalized. One death has been reported from California.

On September 4, 2015, Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce voluntarily recalled all cucumbers sold under the “Limited Edition” brand label during the period from August 1, 2015 through September 3, 2015 because they may be contaminated with Salmonella. The type of cucumber is often referred to as a “slicer” or “American” cucumber. It is dark green in color and typical length is 7 to 10 inches. In retail locations it is typically sold in a bulk display without any individual packaging or plastic wrapping. Limited Edition cucumbers were distributed in the states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah and reached customers through retail, food service companies, wholesalers, and brokers. Further distribution to other states may have occurred.

Outbreak of Salmonella Newport infections linked to cucumbers – United States, 2014

To be presented at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 64th Annual Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) conference April 20-23 in Atlanta.

animal.house.cucumber (1)Background: Salmonella causes approximately 1 million foodborne infections and 400 deaths annually in the United States. In August 2014, PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network for foodborne disease surveillance, detected a multistate cluster of Salmonella Newport (SN) infections with an indistinguishable pulse-field gel electrophoresis pattern. This strain has previously been linked to tomatoes from the Delmarva Peninsula of the Eastern US. We investigated to identify the source and prevent further illnesses. Methods: A case was defined as an illness with the outbreak strain with onset from 5/20/2014- 9/30/2014. Information was collected on travel, restaurant, and food exposures in the 7 days before illness onset using a structured questionnaire. Reported food frequencies were compared to the 2006-2007 FoodNet Population Survey. A non-regulatory traceback was performed to identify the source of food items consumed in illness sub-clusters. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) was conducted to further characterize relatedness of Salmonella isolates.

Results: A total of 275 cases from 29 states and DC were identified; 34% (48/141) were hospitalized and 1 death was reported. A significantly higher percentage of ill persons consumed cucumbers in the week before illness onset than expected, (62% vs. 46.9%, p=0.002). Traceback of 8 illness subclusters led to a common cucumber grower in the Delmarva region of Maryland. WGS analysis showed that genetic sequences of clinical isolates from MD and DE were highly related but distinct from a NY sub-cluster.

Conclusions: Epidemiologic and traceback evidence suggest cucumbers were a major source of illness in this outbreak. This is the first multistate outbreak of SN infections linked to a produce item from the Delmarva Peninsula other than tomatoes, suggesting an environmental reservoir may be responsible for recurring outbreaks.

We’re all hosts on a viral planet: E. coli O157 edition

A novel phage, Φ241, specific for Escherichia coli O157:H7 was isolated from an industrial cucumber fermentation where both acidity (pH ≤ 3.7) and salinity (≥5% NaCl) were high.

phageThe phage belongs to the Myoviridae family. Its latent period was 15 min and average burst size was 53 phage particles per infected cell. The phage was able to lyse 48 E. coli O157:H7 strains, but none of the 18 non-O157 strains (including E. coli O104:H7) or the 2 O antigen-negative mutants of O157:H7 strain, 43895Δper (also lacking H7 antigen) and F12 (still expressing H7 antigen). However, the phage was able to lyse a per-complemented strain (43895ΔperComp) which expresses O157 antigen.

These results indicated that phage Φ241 is specific for O157 antigen, and E. coli strains lacking O157 antigen were resistant to the phage infection, regardless of the presence or absence of H7 antigen. SDS-PAGE profile revealed at least 13 structural proteins of the phage.

The phage DNA was resistant to many commonly used restriction endonucleases, suggesting the presence of modified nucleotides in the phage genome. At the multiplicity of infection of 10, 3, or 0.3, the phage caused a rapid cell lysis within 1 or 2 h, resulting in 3.5- or 4.5-log-unit reduction in cell concentration. The high lytic activity, specificity and tolerance to low pH and high salinity make phage Φ241 a potentially ideal biocontrol agent of E. coli O157:H7 in various foods. To our knowledge, this is the first report on E. coli O157:H7 phage isolated from high acidity and salinity environment.

 Escherichia coli O157:H7 bacteriophage Φ241 isolated from an industrial cucumber fermentation at high acidity and salinity

Frontiers in Microbiology, 17 February 2015 [ahead of print]

Zhongjing Lu and Fred Breidt


Produce cone of silence? 275 sickened with Salmonella from cucumbers in US

Cucumbers don’t often show up on the food safety radar, unless they’re imported from Mexico, which has been linked to outbreaks of E. coli O157 and Salmonella.

cucumberNow the U.S. has its own homegrown outbreak of Salmonella on cucumbers, and maybe we missed something, but this is the first public notification.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in August 2014, PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network for foodborne disease surveillance, detected a multistate cluster of Salmonella enterica serotype Newport infections with an indistinguishable pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern (XbaI PFGE pattern JJPX01.0061).

cone.of.silence.get.smartOutbreaks of illnesses associated with this PFGE pattern have previously been linked to consumption of tomatoes harvested from Virginia’s Eastern Shore in the Delmarva region and have not been linked to cucumbers or other produce items.

To identify the contaminated food and find the source of the contamination, CDC, state and local health and agriculture departments and laboratories, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory investigations. A total of 275 patients in 29 states and the District of Columbia were identified, with illness onsets occurring during May 20–September 30, 2014.

animal.house.cucumberWhole genome sequencing (WGS), a highly discriminating subtyping method, was used to further characterize PFGE pattern JJPX01.0061 isolates. Epidemiologic, microbiologic, and product traceback evidence suggests that cucumbers were a source of Salmonella Newport infections in this outbreak. The epidemiologic link to a novel outbreak vehicle suggests an environmental reservoir for Salmonella in the Delmarva region that should be identified and mitigated to prevent future outbreaks.

 Outbreak of Salmonella Newport infections linked to cucumbers — United States, 2014

CDC MMWR 64(06);144-147

Kristina M. Angelo, Alvina Chu, Madhu Anand, Thai-An Nguyen, Lyndsay Bottichio, Matthew Wise, Ian Williams, Sharon Seelman, Rebecca Bell, Marianne Fatica, Susan Lance, Deanna Baldwin, Kyle Shannon, Hannah Lee, Eija Trees, Errol Strain, Laura Gieraltowski,


9 sickened with E. coli O157 in Oct. 2013 linked to imported cucumbers served at Jimmy John’s in Denver

I’m sure university departmental meetings across the U.S. continue to chomp down on catered Jimmy John’s sandwiches, even though they have a terrible food safety record:

cucumber282 sick from Norovirus in Garden City, Kansas, in 2014;

29 sick from E. coli O26 on clover sprouts in early 2012; and,

140 sick from Salmonella on alfalfa sprouts in 2011.

Now, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment reports that in Oct. 2013, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 sickened nine people, including 1 probable case and 8 laboratory-confirmed cases with matching pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and multiple-locus variable number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA) patterns from E. coli O157:H7 isolated from stool.

All 9 cases reported eating sandwiches at Denver-area Jimmy John’s locations in early October 2013. The outbreak investigation consisted of case finding and interviews, 2 separate case-control studies, environmental investigations, produce traceback, and laboratory testing.

348sThe results of this investigation indicate that consumption of Jimmy John’s sandwiches containing cucumbers imported from Mexico was the likely cause of the outbreak. To our knowledge, this is the first E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with cucumbers reported in the United States. Public health and food safety officials should be aware that cucumbers may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, which could cause sporadic E. coli O157:H7 infections as well as outbreaks. As of the date of this report, no other cases of E. coli O157:H7 with the PFGE pattern combination seen in this outbreak were reported in Colorado. 

Bacon and eggs: food safety culture has really jumped the shark

In April 2013, 73 Americans in 18 states were sickened with Salmonella linked to imported Mexican greenhouse cucumbers.

Walter Ram, vice president of food safety at the Giumarra Companies, a produce distributor with divisions throughout Mexico, told the America Trades Produce conference in Tubac last Wednesday that while other animal.house.cucumberfood industries such as meatpacking have more than a century of food safety experience, the produce industry only began widespread programs in the late 1990s.

Produce companies used to consider fruits and vegetable as “a product,” he said.

“The quantum shift for us to change and get a real culture of food safety means that we need to change that outlook and realize that we’re producing food,” he said.

An effective food safety program should start with the head of the company, Ram said.

Ram’s point was driven home by Martin Ley, current president of Nogales-based Fresh Evolution and former vice president of Del Campo cucumberSupreme, also based in Nogales.

In a colorful comparison, he described food safety programs as a plate of bacon and eggs. While the employees (hens) contribute (eggs), the head of the organization (pig) must be fully committed (bacon) to food safety.

Ley outlined several outbreaks in the past few years, which he called “transforming industry events,” such as the fatal outbreak of listeria from a farm in Colorado in September, an outbreak of salmonella in mangos in Mexico in 2012, another outbreak of listeria in melons from Colorado in 2011, and salmonella found in papayas in Mexico in 2011.

Maybe something’s lost in the coverage, but I don’t want those bacon and eggs.

2011 E. coli allegations make Almerian cucumber a national symbol in Spain

Translated by Sol and Gonzalo Erdozain

“After closely following campaigns in favor of cucumber consumption, conducted by different media, government, etc., we conclude that a crises of this magnitude can lead to a sense of “patriotic pride,” which in this case transformed a simple vegetable into a national symbol. Our analysis, added to interviews with experts on the subject, indicates that these campaigns not only minimized the effects of the crises but actually had a positive impact on the agriculture in Andaluz.

This is one of the main conclusions of the research article, “Media and food crises. The 2011 E. coli outbreak: The cucumber crises,” conducted by five students for a course in Expert in Gastronomic and Nutritional Journalism.

It’s been over a year and a half since those fateful days at the end of May and beginning of June 2011, when the Hamburg (Germany) Health Minister, Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks, accused Spain, and specifically Almeria, of being responsible for the E. coli outbreak victims in Germany linked to cucumber.

Without proof she pointed her finger to an agriculture system, thereby accusing the whole Almerian economic system, which is always innovating in quality materials, food safety, technology and research, is environment-conscious and sustainable, and an example for the community regarding fruit and vegetable exporting.

The industry, and Spanish society, caused an uproar regarding a subject that turned into an issue of rich country versus poor country, one who makes decisions versus one who abides by them, one who makes the most from commercial margins dressed in a suit versus one who earns their bread sweating under a greenhouse.

In spite of economic damage, approximately 27 million taking into account what was thrown out, and the reputation damage, which is still incalculable, he Almerian agriculture industry was still able to pull through it strong, with estimates for 2011-2012 production numbers at a record high of three million tons and sales of 2.336 million Euros, competing with international markets and showing the world its strength in quality products and food safety, with perfect traceability methods, as shown with the E. coli.    

Cucumbers fingered again linked to foodborne microsporidia in Sweden

When a strain of shiga toxin producing E. coli (VTEC O8:H19) was found in Spanish cucumbers in May 2011 during the Germany-based sprout outbreak that killed 53 – and subsequently proven to not be the outbreak strain – producers and politicians focused on how public health got it wrong, and demands for compensation.

Shouldn’t it have been worrisome that any shiga-toxin producing E. coli was found at retail, in a cucumber?

Researchers in Sweden are now reporting that microsporidia may be an underreported source of foodborne illness after cucumbers were linked to dozens of sick people visiting a hotel in Sweden. Abstract below.

Microsporidia are spore-forming intracellular parasites that infrequently cause disease in immunocompetent persons. This study describes the first report of a foodborne microsporidiosis outbreak which affected persons visiting a hotel in Sweden.

Enterocytozoon bieneusi was identified in stool samples from 7/11 case-patients, all six sequenced samples were genotype C. To confirm that this was not a chance finding, 19 stool samples submitted by healthy persons from a comparable group who did not visit the hotel on that day were tested; all were negative for microsporidia. A retrospective cohort study identified 135 case-patients (attack rate 30%). The median incubation period was 9 days.

Consumption of cheese sandwiches [relative risk (RR) 4·1, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1·4–12·2] and salad (RR 2·1, 95% CI 1·1–4) were associated with illness. Both items contained pre-washed, ready-to-eat cucumber slices.

Microsporidia may be an under-reported cause of gastrointestinal outbreaks; we recommend that microsporidia be explored as potential causative agents in food- and waterborne outbreaks, especially when no other organisms are identified.

Epidemiology and Infection March 2012, 140:519-527

V. Decraene, M. Lebbad, S. Botero-Kleiven, A.-M. Gustavsson and M. Lofdahl

Germany fingers cucumbers as E. coli source – again

Cucumbers came under fresh suspicion on Wednesday in Germany’s desperate hunt for a pathogen that has killed 26 people, with investigators discovering the mutant bacteria on food scraps in a family’s garbage.

It was the first time the type O 104 enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) had been confirmed on any food since the outbreak began in mid-May. All the other evidence has come from fecal tests.

The scraps turned up in garbage in the eastern city of Magdeburg, authorities of the state of Saxony-Anhalt said.

Three of the family have been sick: the father only had a stomach upset, the mother has been discharged after a hospital stay for diarrhea and the daughter is suffering from hemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS), a condition caused by EHEC where the kidneys fail.

Experts said they still did not know how the bacteria came to be on the cucumber, which had been in the bin for a week and a half.

Earlier in the day, investigators affirmed that bean sprouts from a market garden remained the likeliest cause of the E coli outbreak, despite the fact that the pathogen has not been found on any sprouts.

At a Berlin news conference, officials summed up the evidence against sprouts.
One woman working at the Bienenbuettel Gaertnerhof, an organic sprout grower, has been infected with EHEC, the germ behind the outbreak, and two other women there had unexplained diarrhea in May, Lower Saxony state officials said.
Two more clusters of EHEC victims were meanwhile confirmed as having eaten sprouts from the Gaertnerhof.

Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner said a total of eight clusters of EHEC victims who ate Gaertnerhof products had been spotted this way