Edmondson: Locust Grove E. coli investigation 'botched'

Source of Article:  http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=298&articleid=20090309_298_0_OKLAHO773268&allcom=1

The Country Cottage restaurant was suspected to be the center of an E. coli outbreak in Locust Grove that left one dead and dozens sick in August 2008. Tulsa World file.

By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau

Published: 3/9/2009  7:34 PM
Last Modified: 3/9/2009  7:34 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY — Attorney General Drew Edmondson on Monday said a state agency “botched” the investigation into an E. coli 0111 outbreak in August in Locust Grove.

Edmondson said the Oklahoma State Department of Health publicly said the well at the Country Cottage restaurant was not the source of the outbreak, but told other officials in at least three meetings that it was the source.

The statements were made by Dr. Kristy Bradley, state epidemiologist, Edmondson said. “I am saying they botched the investigation and are very reluctant to admit they botched the investigation,” Edmondson said.

After an investigation by his office, Edmonson on Feb. 13 said poultry litter was the likely cause of the E. coli 0111 outbreak that left one dead and more than 300 ill. Edmondson has sued poultry companies, alleging excess chicken litter spread at fertilizer is contaminating eastern Oklahoma watersheds.

“In light of the previous inaccurate statements, I would think it would be incumbent upon them to set the record straight and to be honest with the public that pays their salaries,” Edmondson said.

He said the agency can’t be more certain about the outbreak’s source because it failed to take samples from all of the food service workers, Edmondson said. The agency didn’t believe or falsely assumed it did not have the power to force someone to be tested, he said. However, state law gives the agency that power, Edmondson said.

He said that is why the agency can’t rule out a food service worker.

“I have been very disappointed she and they

have not been (honest) and that has left me hanging out there as the only person saying the well was the likely source in public when part of the basis for my saying it was what I was hearing from the state epidemiologist,” Edmondson said.

He said his own investigation ruled out human contamination or cattle waste as the source in the well.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health did not respond specifically to Edmondson’s allegations, but issued a statement outlining their efforts and findings.

No E. coli 0111 was identified in samples from the restaurant’s well, ill food handlers or other sources, said Leslea Bennet-Webb, a spokeswoman for the agency. The agency did not respond to a request for a response from Bradley.

The agency released several updates indicating that no E. coli 0111 had been found after extensive testing, Bennet-Webb said.

“Because the disease-causing organism was not found, the OSDH has not been able to eliminate from consideration any of these potential vehicles for transmission of the bacteria into the restaurant, including well water,” Bennet-Webb said. “It should be noted that even if the OSDH had tested all restaurant employees, testing methods would not have confirmed whether an employee transmitted the E. coli 0111, or became ill as customers did by eating at the restaurant.”

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson, one of the companies Edmondson is suing, said the attorney general is “desperately trying to manufacture evidence” to connect poultry litter to the outbreak.

“Apparently, any state agency unable or unwilling to go along with his scheme is subject to public criticism,” Mickelson said.

By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau



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