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Helen Zukin
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Health Officials link E. coli to Salinas Cattle Ranch

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E. coli outbreak linked to cattle ranch. E. coli investigation continuous as search for source narrows.

Health inspectors announced on Thursday that the same strain of E. coli bacteria that caused three deaths and sickened 200 nationally was located at a Salinas Valley cattle ranch less than a mile from spinach fields. The strain of pathogenic E. coli 0157:H7 was found in three cattle fecal samples taken from one of four cattle ranches under investigation. The samples were an exact match to the strain detected in recalled bags of spinach and sick patients.

“It’s our expectation that no farm should feel they are off the hook,” said Dr. Robert Brackett, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

There are still a number of important unanswered questions health inspectors must resolve. They do not yet know how the feces contaminated the tainted spinach or whether the ranch used cattle to fertilize its fields. Some health experts are recommending that new safeguards be put into place, such as stringent testing of soil, water and produce and more fencing of ranches and farms. Additionally, there is a call to create buffer zones between cattle ranches and farms so that the risk of the spread of the deadly bacteria through air, soil and water runoff can be reduced.

It is important to recognize that E. coli contaminated produce is still a very real threat. Careful handling and cleaning of all store purchased produce is essential in order to reduce the risk of ingesting life threatening bacteria such as E. coli.