Untreated water by Palm Beach County grower tied to salmonella outbreak in cucumbers

Salmonella found in untreated canal water used by Bedner Growers Inc. of Boynton Beach
Posted at 10:28 AM, Jul 03, 2024

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Untreated water used by a Palm Beach County cucumber grower is one likely source of salmonella food poisoning that sickened nearly 450 people across the U.S. this spring, federal health officials said Tuesday.

But that grower doesn't account for all of the cucumber-related illnesses and 125 hospitalizations that were reported from late March through early June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Salmonella found in untreated canal water used by Bedner Growers Inc. of Boynton Beach matched a strain of the bacteria that caused some of the illnesses in reported in more than 30 states and Washington, D.C. Additional types of salmonella were detected in soil and water samples collected at the site, FDA officials said.



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Bedner Growers supplied Fresh Start Produce Sales of Delray Beach which recalled crates of cucumbers in late May after the first illnesses were reported. Bedner Growers also supplied cucumbers to multiple places where ill people reported buying or eating the produce, FDA said.

The canal water was not applied to edible parts of the cucumber plants, but was used for subsoil watering, said Bedner Growers' owner Steve Bedner. He added that it complies with federal rules and is "a common industry practice."

Bedner spokeswoman Amy Philpott wrote "none of our cucumbers have tested positive for the salmonella outbreak strains" and "Bedner Growers began harvesting cucumbers several weeks after the first salmonellisis case linked to the …outbreaks."

WPTV wanted to know where the farmland in question that Bedner leased was located, but Philpott wrote, "We do not have permission to provide the address."

Investigators originally said there were two outbreaks of salmonella possibly tied to cucumbers, but combined them into one because of several similarities, including the timing and the type of food. Nearly 70% of sick people interviewed reported eating cucumbers before they fell ill, the FDA said. The investigation is continuing.

Bedner Growers' cucumber growing and harvesting season is over. There is no product from the farm remaining on the market, the FDA said, so there's likely no ongoing risk to the public.

"Almost every year we see a different salmonella outbreak in different food groups," Dr. Kitonga Kiminyo, the president of the T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society of Palm Beach County and an infectious disease specialist, told WPTV investigative reporter Dave Bohman.

Bohman asked Kiminyo who is most vulnerable to salmonella poisoning.

"High risk individuals, meaning young kids or older individuals," Kiminyo said. "It can be something that can lead to hospitalization and even death."

Kiminyo said most people who get salmonella don't report it.

"There's no treatment for salmonella," Kiminyo said. "You just have to stay hydrated, and most people do just fine."

In the meantime, Bedner Growers terminated its lease on the farmland in May and does not intend to farm it during the next growing season.

Below is a full statement that Bedner Growers provided to WPTV:

"As a family-owned and -operated farm, Bedner Growers takes public health and the safety of the fresh vegetables we produce for our families, our community, and the region seriously. We are committed to cooperating with state and federal regulators and appreciate the already swift and thorough investigation to determine the root cause of recent Salmonella outbreaks believed to be linked to cucumbers. We would like to emphasize that Bedner Growers complies with the Produce Safety Rule and used only potable water on its cucumbers."

Additional points:
  • Bedner Growers last harvested the suspect field in mid-April and ended the property lease on May 1st because we were done harvesting. There were already plans to develop the land and take it out of agricultural production, so by the time the FDA arrived in June to take soil and water samples, construction and dredging along the canal had already begun. (The sludge is laid out in the sun on top of the soil to dry before using it to fill in the canal.)
    • We no longer lease the field and do not have permission to provide the address.
  • None of our cucumbers have tested positive for the salmonella outbreak strains.
  • Bedner Growers began harvesting cucumbers weeks after the first salmonellosis case linked to the two outbreaks mentioned in the July 2 FDA update.
  • We have also been working closely with the Florida Department of Agriculture


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