It’s now been some time since the growing season for romaine lettuce in the Yuma, Arizona, region came to a close, and it was a pretty interesting year for farmers in the area. In May, tainted lettuce claimed dozens of victims, and by the time things began to calm down the bad veggies had sent nearly 100 people to the hospital and caused five deaths. Now, officials are finally gaining some ground on their investigation into the cause of the contamination.

According to a new update by the FDA, health and food safety officials have discovered that canal water in the region is coming up positive for the same strain of E. coli that was present in the lettuce. That’s a huge red flag, and it’s now thought that a nearby cattle mega-facility may be involved.

If the tainted water was used to irrigate fields of romaine lettuce, that would likely be enough to cause the outbreak. Exactly where the E. coli came from is still being investigated, but as the FDA explains, a massive cattle operation is right next to a whole bunch of romaine lettuce farms.

“FDA notes that the canal is close to a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), a facility with a large number of cattle on the premises,” the FDA explains in a new bulletin.” The CAFO can hold in excess of 100,000 head of cattle at any one time and the FDA traceback information showed a clustering of romaine lettuce farms nearby.”

Officials immediately look at the connection between E. coli and nearby animals as potential contaminators. Animal feces is a readily available source of all kinds of potentially harmful bacteria, including E. coli, and having 100,000 animals eating and pooping right next to romaine lettuce farms is obviously not an ideal situation, especially if that feces is making its way into canal water.

Officials are still investigating the situation and seem determined to find the exact source of the E. coli strain. The outbreak wasn’t just inconvenient, it claimed lives, and determining exactly what happened is of utmost importance.

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