FOOD SAFETY AND ENGINEERED BACTERIA being updated
Wild Boar or Waste Water? Who Slimed the Spinach?
After the Dole spinach outbreak of 2006, a full fledged investigation was initiated, which ended up blaming the first ever
wild boar found in the United States infected with the bio-engineered bacteria E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria. The question is,
did the wild boar infect the spinach, or did the spinach infect the wild boar, since the spinach was irrigated with recycled
sewage water? There are about 5 million metric tons of bacterial contaminated sewage sludge used on agricultural land
and unknown quantities of recycled sewage water used for irrigation. State and federal regulations allow some quantity
of bacteria in both. Yet, the focus of public food safety information places the responsibility for food safety on the
consumer. As an example:
Food Safety month is in full swing and the FDA's, Partners for Food Safety Education states the obvious, "Harmful
Bacteria Can Make People Sick." and implies the homemaker may be mostly to blame if proper steps are not taken.
FDA states, "Food handling safety risks at home are more common than most people think. The four easy lessons of
CLEAN [Wash hands and surfaces often], SEPARATE [Don't cross-contaminate] COOK [Cook to proper temperature],
CHILL [Refrigerate promptly], can help prevent harmful bacteria from making your family sick." That advice is a
disservice to the consumer when federal and state regulators allow recycled sewage to be used on food crops eaten
Those warnings would not have been useful to the many victims who became ill or died during the contaminated Dole
lettuce and Spinach outbreaks of 2006. Bacteria not only contaminate the surface of plants, they may get inside the
plants. This was the 20th outbreak linked to the Salinas Valley since 1995. The outbreak has been attributed to various
causes: migrant workers, cattle, wild hogs, contaminated well or surface water, etc.. However, no definitive cause was
found on which to place the blame. The victims here became the farmers, the food processor Dole, as well as other
processors, their customers, and the consumer.
In tracing the chain of events leading up to the lettuce and spinach outbreaks and the investigation, it is very disturbing
to find that since 1989,12,000 acres of the Salinas Valley has been irrigated with acknowledged coliform values of
contaminated "reclaimed" sewage known as Title 22 recycled water. Coliform is actually the name of a test for
pathogenic enteric gram-negative bacteria (including E. coli, Salmonella, and shigella) known collectively as family
Enterobacteriaceae. They are a major source of hospital acquired infections. E. coli 0157:H7 is invisible to the
standard set of E. coli tests used on food, water, and recycled sewage. The generic E. coli is still rather dangerous.
The 1919 book Modern Surgery, noted the danger from bacillus of Escherich (E.coli). It states, "This bacillus may be
responsible for appendicitis, peritonitis, inflammation of the genito-urinary tract, pneumonia, inflammation of the
intestine, leptomeningitis, perineal abscess, cholangitis, cholecystitis, myelitis, puerperal fever, wound infections and
septicemia." In the 1963 study, INFECTIVE HEREDITY OF MULTIPLE DRUG RESISTANCE IN BACTERIA, TSUTOMU
WATANABE warned, "The fact that R factors can be transferred to every genus of Enterobacteriaceae
and to other genera, including V. comma, by nonpathogenic bacteria such as E. coli constitutes a serious public health
problem." As early as 1973, studies show that these bacteria could grow in chlorinated water. By 1982, the study
R-Plasmid Transfer in a Wastewater Treatment Plant proved gene transfer in sewage treatment plants. The study
noted, "Mean transfer frequencies for laboratory matings were 2.1 x 10-3. In situ matings for primary and secondary
settling resulted in frequencies of 4.9 x 10- 5 and 7.5 x 10-5, respectively. These values suggest that a significant level
of resistance transfer occurs in wastewater treatment plants in the absence of antibiotics as selective agents." In the
1982 study, Effect of UV Light Disinfection on Antibiotic-Resistant Coliforms in Wastewater Effluents, EPA's
Mark Meckes states, "It is evident from this work as well as from the work of others that antibiotic resistant coliforms are
entering the aquatic environment via treated municipal wastewater effluents." Moreover, "This work also points out that
there is a significant increase in the percentage of the surviving total coliform population resistant to tetracycline and
chloramphenicol after UV irradiation." Furthermore, "46% of these isolates were capable of transferring antibiotic
resistance to a sensitive strain of Escherichia coli."
E. coli 0157:H7 had just entered the agricultural environment when Meckes made his observations: 1) the first recorded
human case of E. coli 0157:H7 in 1975 was a Oakland Naval Officer; 2) the first corporation connected to E. coli
0157:H7 contaminated hamburger meat in 1982 was founded in California; and 3) the first case of E. coli 0157:H7 in
wild boars was associated with a contaminated spinach outbreak in 2006 irrigated with recycled sewage water known to
The remaining question is, was the Central American strain of Shigella toxin gene transferred in the gut of a Naval
Officer, a treatment plant or in a laboratory, such as the Leland Stanford Jr. University or the Naval Bioscience
laboratory on the University of California Campus? The 1974 patent application was in the name of one scientist from
the University of California (Herbert W. Boyer) an one from Stanford (Stanley Cohen). Stanford was assigned United
States Patent 4,237,224 in 1980, for the creation of bacteria, which could not exist in nature. Now virtually any lab can
create bacteria and viruses which never existed in nature..
California has used some reclaimed sewage in agricultural since 1945. By 1977 there were 1994 operational sewage
reuse projects in agriculture, landscape irrigation, artificial lakes, industrial and power-plant cooling, and ground-water
recharge, with another 34 in the planing and construction stage. Most were paid for with federal and state monies
provided through the Clean Water Grant Fund.
In the five year UC Davis Salinas Valley Castroville study (1987) Reclaimed water for irrigation of vegetables eaten raw,
bacteria were not a concern. The study simply notes, "Total and fecal coliform counts in the reclaimed waters were
consistently higher than levels in well water because of regrowth following dechlorination." Fecal coliform is the name of
a test for a few thermotolerant members of the family Enterobacteriaceae that continue to grow at elevated
temperatures.. The study apparently focused on metals because in 1982, according to the NAS Committee studying
Irrigation- Induced Water Quality Problems, scientists discovered the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in the San
Joaquin Valley was being contaminated by excessive levels of selenium from irrigation runoff. This was causing
reproductive failures and deaths in aquatic organisms and waterfowl.
It would appear Dole was lulled into complacence by the 1996 National Research Council's report, Use of Reclaimed
Water and Sludge in Food Crop Production Chaired by Dr. Al Page, UC Riverside. He said,
"It is hoped that this report will be particularly useful to food processors, states, and municipalities in assessing the use
of treated municipal wastewater and sludge in producing crops for human consumption. It highlights public concerns
and regulatory issues likely to be faced, and also identifies some additional areas for research." However, the final
statement in the report should have raised a red flag for all food producers and processors, "The suite of existing
federal regulations, available avenues for additional state and local regulatory actions, and private sector forces
appear adequate to allow, with time and education, the development of safe beneficial reuse of reclaimed wastewater
and sludge." Privates sector forces are people like attorney Bill Marler, the E. coli attorney who has collected millions of
dollars for victims..
In the aftermath of the Dole lettuce and Spinach outbreak, U.C. Davis did another study on reclaimed sewage water.
However, apparently no one was qualified to handle pathogenic strains of E. coli in the field. In her final 2008 report to
the California Lettuce Research Board, Linda Harris, Department of Food Science and Technology, U.C. Davis, stated
her lab engineered attenuated nonpathogenic strains of E. coli 0157:H7 for the field study. The study was a one time
seeding event of "rifampicin mutants for the three strains under evaluation: two attenuated (non-pathogenic) strains of
E. coli O157:H7: ATCC 43888 and ATCC 700728 and one surrogate, Citrobacter youngae." None of the mutant strains
were found on lettuce and none survived in the soil past 30 days. Rifampicin is an antibiotic.
U. C. Davis is renowned for its expertise on sludge and reclaimed sewage use, but apparently failed to do minimal
research. In the 2004 USDA study Persistence of Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 in
Soil and on Leaf Lettuce and Parsley Grown in Fields Treated with Contaminated Manure Composts or Irrigation Water,
the study noted, "E. coli O157:H7 persisted for 154 to 217 days in soils amended with contaminated composts and was
detected on lettuce and parsley for up to 77 and 177 days, respectively, after seedlings were planted." Furthermore, "In
all cases, E. coli O157:H7 in soil, regardless of source or crop type, persisted for >5 months after application of
contaminated compost or irrigation water."
In the March / April 2009 edition U.C. Davis Cooperative Extension, Monterey County Crop Notes , FOOD SAFETY AND
SALINAS VALLEY CROPS: 5: Research on soil survival of E. coli in the Salinas Valley, summarized "a two-year study on
the soil survival and ecology of E. coli under field conditions in the Salinas Valley. The summary states, "We also
learned that [nonpathogenic] generic and [nonpathogenic] attenuated O157:H7 E. coli strains behaved similarly. Both
strains survived for only a short time in soil, and we failed to detect the transfer of either strain moving from soil and
onto lettuce." According to the conclusions, "Our simulation of a one-time, high level contamination event to a lettuce
seedbed resulted in very short persistence of E. coli."
At the same time, the 2004 USDA study Persistence of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 in soil and on leaf
lettuce and parsley grown in fields treated with contaminated manure composts or irrigation water was posted on the
USDA, ARS website 2009 http://ddr.nal.usda.gov/handle/10113/26385?mode=full
Irrigation water was inoculated with E. coli at 10(5) CFU/ml of water "Contaminated irrigation water was applied only
once on the plants as a treatment in five plots for each crop at the rate of 2 liters per plot 3 weeks after the seedlings
were transplanted. E. coli O157:H7 persisted for 154 to 217 days in soils amended with contaminated composts and
was detected on lettuce and parsley for up to 77 and 177 days, respectively, after seedlings were planted. In all cases,
E. coli O157:H7 in soil, regardless of source or crop type, persisted for >5 months after application of contaminated
compost or irrigation water." http://ddr.nal.usda.gov/handle/10113/26385?mode=full
According to Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, "House flies are known to carry bacteria and
viruses that cause conditions such as diarrhea, cholera, food poisoning, yaws, dysentery, and eye infections." So,
instead of cattle and hogs contaminating lettuce and spinach, it is possible that flies may have moved E. coli from the
files to the cattle and hogs. Flies have been documented to travel over 20 kilometers from there release point.