NEWBERG, Ore. -- Strawberries sold at farmer's markets and roadside stands were linked to a deadly E. coli outbreak Monday. On Tuesday, authorities said deer may be to blame.
Dr. Paul Cieslak of the Oregon Public Health Division said that samples of soil and deer droppings collected from fields at the Jacquith Strawberry Farm in Newberg, 25 miles southwest of Portland, were being analyzed and results should be available in a few days.
He said it has been known since 1997 that deer can carry the bacteria, but investigators don't know why it has never shown up in strawberries before.
The strawberries were sold in July. None were sold in supermarkets.
An unidentified elderly woman in Washington County died from kidney failure and four others were hospitalized. So far, 16 people in Washington, Clatsop, Multnomah counties and Northwestern Oregon have been infected in the past month.
The Newberg farm no longer has any of the berries on the market. However, many berry buyers resold them at roadside stands and farmers' markets. Officials said the farm was cooperating in the investigation.
The farm issued a statement Tuesday saying everyone in the fourth-generation operation was deeply saddened by the outbreak.
A neighbor of the Joe Jacquith said his friend has always set high standards for berry quality.
"For something like this to come along and just knock the skids out from under him," said Don Wachlin, "it could just ruin him, hes spent a lifetime getting to where he is."
Consumers need to weigh their desire for wildlife, he said, versus the desire for fresh produce free of contamination caused by them. Farmers are caught in the middle of something they cannot control, he said.
Cieslak said they did not think the strawberries were being sold - but worried that people may have frozen the straberries, which does not kill the bacteria.
"If you have any strawberries from this producer - frozen, in uncooked jam or any uncooked form - throw them out," Cieslak said. "People who have eaten the strawberries, but remain well need take no action. The incubation period for E. coli O157:H7 is typically two to seven days.
"The commonality among these cases has been strawberries at roadside stands and farmers' markets supplied by this one farm last month," Cieslak said.
E. coli produces toxins that can cause mild to severe intestinal illness, including severe cramps and diarrhea that is often bloody. Cooking kills the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.
None of the following have been implicated in this outbreak:
Berries other than strawberries;
Strawberries sold since Aug. 1;
Strawberries sold south of Benton County or east of Multnomah County;
Strawberries sold in supermarkets;
Strawberries picked at Jaquith Strawberry Farm's U-pick field.
People should always take the following precautions with uncooked produce, the Oregon Strawberry Commission said:
1. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
2. Keep fruits and vegetables and other raw food separated from cooked food.
3. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap after handling raw foods, as well as before eating, after using the toilet, and after changing diapers.