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E. coli in lettuce: Why hasn’t Arizona had an outbreak yet, and what can ranchers do to help?

National Public Radio’s All Things Considered aired a story on lettuce production near Yuma, Arizona, the region where leafy greens are grown during the off-season in California’s Salinas Valley.

America gets much of its winter lettuce from the fields of Yuma, Ariz. But unlike the country’s other big lettuce region — California’s Salinas Valley — Yuma’s crops haven’t been hit with E. coli contamination. Produce companies are learning new lessons about avoiding future outbreaks.

The Capital Press reports that California State Senator Dean Florez is preparing to introduce legislation designed to reduce E. coli contamination in California’s fresh produce. Now ranchers are working to help be part of the solution. According to the Capital Press, Central Coast cattle ranchers are learning ways they can help in the fight against food-borne pathogens. At two "Cut the Crap for Ranchers" seminars this week, including one today in Guadalupe, Rob Atwill, a University of California Extension specialist in veterinary medicine, will tell ranchers how to prevent potential contamination of surface water with pathogens like E. coli.

"Cattle certainly can carry it, shed it, and spread it. Other things can carry it, shed it and spread it," Atwill said. "Are they (cattle) just light bulbs for us telling us that it has moved into the valley — this E. coli — and are they are also being taken over and invaded by these bacteria, or are they in fact the ones that keep it going from year to year?"

Cattle have been implicated as possible sources of the E. coli outbreak linked to fresh spinach from the Salinas Valley last September. Health investigators have made no definitive connection to livestock, but Atwill said ranchers can still act on their own to help by establishing buffers between livestock operations and crops.

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