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Flooded fields could be source of past E. coli outbreaks

The Herald Salinas Bureau reports that a report by the California Department of Health Services could affect a web of lawsuits and cross-complaints that have been filed in Salinas Valley, following E. coli outbreaks that killed one woman and sickened more than 100 people in California and Washington.
The report states that ready-to-eat produce grown on fields that have been, or could be, flooded should not be sold to the public.
The new recommendations focus primarily on the area’s agricultural ditches. Investigators recommend steps that can be taken to prevent water from overflowing from the ditches, which could be contaminated, onto fields with ready-to-eat crops.
The first outbreak occurred in July 2002 at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., during a drill team and dance camp.
The subsequent outbreaks in September and October 2003 involved customers who dined at Pat & Oscar’s, a restaurant chain in Southern California, and residents of a retirement community in San Mateo County.
The lawsuit has involved Sodexho America LLC, Diamond Produce, Pismo Oceano Vegetable Produce, River Ranch Fresh Foods, ComGro, Inc., and the city of Salinas.
A multi-agency study will continue throughout this year in an effort to examine water from the area’s agricultural ditches to see what preventative measures can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of contamination.

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