Oregon Farmers' Markets Association responds to Oregon E. coli outbreak in strawberries

      Posted On: August 9, 2011

For Immediate Release (originally posted at oregonfarmersmarkets.org)

Contact: Rebecca Landis
President, OFMA

August 8, 2011

Oregon Farmers’ Markets Association, the statewide organization representing most of the state’s more than 130 farmers’ markets, is assisting federal and state public health officials in preventing consumption of strawberries contaminated with the O157:H7 strain of E. coli that were grown at a Washington County farm.
Strawberries (and all other berries) sold in farmers’ markets and farm stands as of August 1 are considered safe, but consumers may have frozen strawberries at home that need to be destroyed.

The strawberries are three varieties typically classed as “June-bearing.” But because of the farm’s altitude, production and sales continued well into July. “Ever-bearing” strawberries are not affected.

“No one should have to worry about the safety of our food,” said Rebecca Landis, president of OFMA. “Knowing exactly where your food comes from is a core value of farmers’ markets, and we are constantly striving to create the highest level of transparency and traceability. This protects public health while reaping the other benefits of farm direct marketing, including ever-wider access to fresh, local and healthy foods.”

The strawberries have been traced to a single farm in Washington County that does not sell at farmers’ markets – it offers U-pick and sells to farm stands.
Despite a trend in Oregon farmers’ markets away from allowing any resale, it appears that contaminated strawberries found their way into farmers’ markets, in addition to farm stands other than that of the grower. So far it appears no illnesses are tied to the farm’s U-pick operation.

Preliminary research indicates that strawberries in question may have been sold through farmers’ markets without authorization of market management.
“Oregon farmers’ markets are not cookie-cutter markets, meaning that each community or group of farmers set guidelines that fit local circumstances,” Landis said.

Public health authorities have made significant progress in a short period of time, especially when compared to national recalls that have become all too common in recent years. OFMA and other supporters of farm direct agriculture will be actively helping to trace the strawberries and make sure illness spreads no further.  So far all of the affected people are in Washington, Multnomah and Clatsop counties.
Pathogenic E. coli is not something inherent in strawberries or other produce – it comes from fecal material from another source. The source of the E. coli on the strawberries in question has not been identified. In any instance of agricultural contamination, produce can be contaminated by animal feces, human hands or water, and the contamination can occur before, during or after harvest – potentially after leaving the farm.

“We hope that additional investigation will identify the ultimate cause and that further harm can be prevented by a combination of good science and good communication,” Landis said.

In addition to its focus on the immediate needs of helping health authorities trace the strawberries and inform the public, OFMA will continue to train, educate, and develop best practices for farmers’ markets to ensure transparency and traceability.


About Oregon Farmers’ Markets Association (OFMA)
The Oregon Farmers’ Market Association is an incorporated and registered 501(c)(6) non-profit organization with the primary purposes of promoting, supporting and helping establish Oregon farmers’ markets; providing services and educational assistance to market members; providing economic bridges between rural and urban communities. To learn more about OFMA and the benefits of membership, visit www.oregonfarmersmarkets.org.