Monterey, CA – "We have no secrets when it comes to public health. We want to share the information. The same time we get it, everybody else gets it," said Jim Lugg, Executive Vice President of Science and Quality at Fresh Express. That's why the ready-to-eat salad company held an industry wide conference to share the results of $2-million in research it funded on how E.coli is transmitted to leafy greens. The research comes two years after a deadly outbreak in spinach. Fresh Express had no connection to that outbreak.
The money funded nine different studies, including one led by Dr. Jacqueline Fletcher from Oklahoma State University. Her team's study, in part, examined the potential role of flies. Although flies have been connected to transmitting E.coli to cattle, feed and water, no connection had been made to leafy greens. But her work found preliminary evidence linking the flies that feed on manure, to spinach. "We did find those flies, species in the spinach and produce growing areas, and we did find a low percentage that were carrying E.Coli O157:H7. Whether this happens naturally or is a significant factor in contamination, we don't know yet," said Dr. Fletcher. Another study found that internalization, or absorption, of E.coli into the roots of lettuce may not be as much of a problem as previously thought.
Bob Buchanan leads the Center for Food Systems Security and Safety at the University of Maryland, "now it's important to understand in this whole process that this is a very complex ecological situation, so there's not going to be any one magic bullet that's going to eliminate all the risk." Instead, industry experts say the research will help them figure out where best to focus their efforts. "So for example the question of internalization within the lettuce leaf or spinach leaf seems to be an area that we can decrease our activity," said Buchanan, "whereas I was particularly excited about hearing the role that flies may play in this, and this gives us now a way of removing that as a risk factor."