The Mountain Mail in Salida, CO reported on a cluster of E coli victims in the small Rocky Mountain community.   Two cases are confirmed and three others have symptoms that are consistent with E. coli 0157:H7 infections.

Both the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Chaffee County Public Health District are investigating, but neither has connected the Salida illnesses with a specific source.

Connections could be made to either one of two national E. coli outbreaks– the one linked to beef from the JBS Swift Co. in Greeley, CO, which has made at least 23 people infections with E. coli 0157:H7 in nine states or the nationwide Nestle refrigerated raw cookie dough outbreak. Or maybe there is another source.

Or who knows? David Acheson, the nearest thing the federal government has to a utility in-fielder for food safety, was pushed out to say we should not expect much from Uncle Sam’s investigation of the poison Nestle cookie dough.

“This will be one of those situations where we won’t definitely know what went wrong,” Acheson said.

That  “situation,” according to a late Friday update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now involves 74 confirmed cases in 32 states, all matched from PFGE testing with onset ranges from March 16 to June 11. Thirty-four have required hospital stays and ten developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).

Acheson, who started with the feds as senior food scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and now is FDA’s assistant commissioner for food safety, sounds like a man giving up.

Cookie dough samples have tested positive for different strains of E. coli, but not yet the exact PFGE match to those who are ill. And how any E. coli is getting in the cookie dough is a mystery.

FDA is good at what its done. Testing equipment and ingredients, including the flour that might have been contaminated in the field. But what it’s done is not good enough. If FDA wants to give up, fine. 

Maybe another agency would be better suited to finishing this investigation.   If equipment and ingredients are all clean, let’s not remove the yellow tape around this crime scene too quickly. Not until everyone who had access to this plant is also investigated, employees, management, visitors.

Let’s turn it over to the FBI.