December 2010

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, announced today that it is pledging $10,000 to the International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA) to assist in the development of a safer method for the production of sprouts. The contribution comes on the heels of a nationwide Salmonella outbreak caused by contaminated sprouts that has sickened almost 100 people.

“We are pledging this money to ISGA to apply as it sees fit with the ultimate goal being the development of a more effective sanitation measure in the production of sprouts,” said Marler Clark Managing Partner Bill Marler. “We recognize that sprout seeds are often the problem, but the seed industry has proven itself incapable of ensuring the safety of its products. Therefore the question of safety must fall to the sprout growers themselves, and this pledge is to help them in some small way achieve better safety.”

The sprout industry has recently come under fire for its foodborne illness record. Since 1990 sprouts have been attributed to at least 39 E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) thus far at least 94 people have become ill with Salmonella in the current outbreak and at least 22 of them have been hospitalized.

“With 39 sprout outbreaks in the last two decades and Jimmy John’s having been involved in three of those since 2008, the company is no longer an innocent bystander,” said Marler. “Jimmy John’s should consider matching our $10,000 pledge as an investment in the safety of its customers.”

First Class Foods, Inc., a Hawthorne, Calif., establishment, is recalling approximately 34,373 pounds of organic ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

Screen shot 2010-12-30 at 8.10.20 PM.pngThe following products are subject to recall:

• 16-oz. packages of “NATURE’S HARVEST ORGANIC GROUND BEEF BRICK” sold singly with one of the following “USE or FREEZE by” dates: “12/30/10” or “01/08/11.”

• 16-oz. packages of “ORGANIC HARVEST ORGANIC GROUND BEEF BRICK” sold singly and in three-packs with one of the following “USE or FREEZE by” dates: “12/28/10” or “01/06/11.”

• 16-oz. packages of NATURE’S HARVEST GROUND PATTY” containing four (4) 4-oz. patties with the following “USE or FREEZE by” date: “12/30/10” or “01/08/11”

Each package label bears the establishment number “EST. 18895” as well as the identifying Pack Date of “10341 and 10350 Julian date. These ground beef products were produced on Dec. 7, 2010, and Dec. 16, 2010, and were shipped to retail establishments in Calif., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Wis., and Wash. State.

The problem was discovered through company microbiological sampling which confirmed a positive result for E. coli O157:H7. FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products. Individuals concerned about an illness should contact a physician.

Screen shot 2010-12-30 at 11.44.44 AM.pngThe CDC has confirmed that there are presently 94 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:- from 16 states and the District of Columbia. The number of ill people identified in each state with the outbreak strain is as follows: California (1), Connecticut (1), District of Columbia (1), Georgia (1), Hawaii (1), Iowa (1), Illinois (51), Indiana (9), Massachusetts (1), Missouri (17), New York (1), Pennsylvania (2), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), Texas (1), Virginia (1), and Wisconsin (3). It appears that the CDC has also implicated Tiny Greens Organic Farms, that according to the firm’s website, “is a unique organic farm located in the flatlands of central Illinois” in most, if not all, of the illnesses.

So, would a company like Tiny Greens be exempt from the requirements of the Food Safety Act?

Food facilities would qualify for an exemption from the preventive control/HACCP provisions under certain conditions. If they are either a “very small business” as defined by FDA in rulemaking; or (2) the average annual monetary value of all food sold by the facility during the previous 3 year period was less than $500,000, but only so long as the majority of the food sold by that facility was sold directly to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores (as opposed to 3rd party food brokers) and were in the same state where the facility sold the food or within 275 miles of the facility. Facilities that qualify would be exempt from the preventive control/HACCP provisions, but would still have to comply with one of the following: (1) They would have to demonstrate that they have identified potential hazards and are implementing preventive controls to address the hazards, or (2) they would have to demonstrate to FDA that they are in compliance with state or local food safety laws.

Farms would qualify for an exemption from the produce safety standards if, during the previous 3 year period, the average monetary value of the food they sold was less than $500,000, but only so long as the majority of sales were to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores (as opposed to 3rd party food brokers) and were in the same state where the farm harvested or produced the food or within 275 miles of the farm.

alfalfa-sprouts(1).jpgHowever, in the event of an active investigation of a foodborne illness outbreak that is directly linked to a facility or farm exempted under this section, or if the Secretary determines that it is necessary to protect the public health and prevent or mitigate a foodborne illness outbreak based on conduct or conditions associated with a facility or farm that are material to the safety of food, the Secretary may withdraw the exemption provided to such facility under this section.

So, my sitting on the beach in Hawaii answer – I think Tiny Greens is not tiny enough to be exempted, and after this outbreak, would not longer qualify anyway.

Raw Milk.jpgWhile we are on sprouts, it got me thinking again about raw milk and the similarity to raw milk – at least as it relates to bacterial infections. Sprouts have been implicated in some 40 outbreaks, sickening thousands in the last 20 years (See, Sprouts, please hold the E. coli and Salmonella). As for Raw Milk, according to CDC, between 1998 and 2008, there were 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from consumption of raw milk reported to CDC, including a total of 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths. I have tracked similar, but not exact numbers during that same time frame (See, Examples of bacterial foodborne disease outbreaks linked to contaminated raw (unpasteurized) dairy products in the United States, 2000-2007). In 2008 and 2009, I tracked even more (See, Raw Milk Outbreaks – 2009 Update). And, in 2010, there were so many outbreaks and recalls, it was hard to keep track (See, The Raw Truth about Milk and Cheese in 2010).

So, both sprouts and raw milk have been implicated in outbreaks, and both have kept me busy representing sickened people.  Both are intended to be served raw without a “kill step.”  Both have suffered FDA scrutiny in one form or another.  However, like in the Tiny Green’s case, sprouts can be shipped across state lines when raw milk can not.  Also, some dozen states ban the sale of raw milk and many severely restrict it.  I am not aware of any states that treat sprouts that way.

So, why are sprouts and raw milk not treated equally?  I’m headed back to the beach.

 

JimmyJohnsSub.jpgSalmonella and E. coli are fecal bateria – think about it.

According to today’s report from the CDC, between November 1 through December 27, 2010, 94 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:- have been reported from 16 states and the District of Columbia. The number of ill people identified in each state with the outbreak strain is as follows: California (1), Connecticut (1), District of Columbia (1), Georgia (1), Hawaii (1), Iowa (1), Illinois (51), Indiana (9), Massachusetts (1), Missouri (17), New York (1), Pennsylvania (2), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), Texas (1), Virginia (1), and Wisconsin (3). Collaborative investigative efforts of local, state, and federal public health and regulatory agencies have linked this outbreak to consumption of Tiny Greens Organic Farm’s Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy Sprouts. The sprouts were distributed to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri, and may also have been distributed to other Midwestern states. Approximately half of the illnesses occurred in Illinois, where many of the ill individuals ate sandwiches containing sprouts at various Jimmy John’s outlets. Jimmy John’s restaurants have voluntarily suspended serving sprouts at their Illinois franchise locations.

This should sound a tad bit familiar:

Between September 16, 2008, and October 4, 2008, Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) received a total of 19 confirmed and suspect cases of Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) O157:NM. Of those cases, 14 were lab confirmed to have matching PFGE patterns, and the pattern was unlike any other reported outbreak. Because most of the cases in this outbreak became ill at a Boulder Jimmy John’s Restaurant, Boulder County Public Health lead the investigation into the outbreak. Ultimately, in addition to the 19 confirmed Boulder County cases, one case was identified in each of the following counties: Arapahoe, Broomfield, Jefferson and Weld. BCPH reported: “Of the cases not in Boulder County, 2 of 4 (50%) reported eating food from a Jimmy John’s restaurant—one at the sorority house and one at a Jimmy John’s restaurant located in Adams County, Colorado. All 17 cases (100%) in Boulder County reported eating food from Jimmy John’s restaurant located in Boulder.” Based on their detailed traceback investigation, investigators ultimately found that one company, Sprouts Extraordinaire, had supplied alfalfa sprouts to not only the Boulder Jimmy John’s, but also the Federal Height’s (Adams County) Jimmy John’s, as well as the Pita Pit in Greeley, Colorado, where another PFGE matched case had consumed sprouts two days before onset of illness.

On February 24, 2009, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services identified bacterial isolates from fourteen Nebraska residents who were infected with Salmonella Saintpaul. By PFGE testing, the genetic fingerprints of six of the fourteen cases matched exactly, and results were pending on the remaining eight cases. Onsets of illness for these initial fourteen cases stretched from the beginning to the middle of February 2009. Approximately two days later, Nebraska health authorities issued a nationwide notice to other state and federal health organizations, inquiring whether there were any additional reports of illness due to infection by Salmonella Saintpaul. Interviews with confirmed and suspect cases in the developing outbreak soon revealed a pattern of exposure to raw alfalfa sprouts, typically on sandwiches from Jimmy John’s restaurants, in the days before onset of illness. Health authorities, in collaboration with officials from the CDC and FDA, quickly identified CW Sprouts, Inc, a grower from Omaha, as the grower and supplier of the implicated sprout products. On March 3, 2009, CW Sprouts voluntarily recalled its alfalfa, onion, and gourmet sprout products sold under the SunSprout Enterprises brand name. In the two weeks following CW Sprouts’ March 3 recall, four other mid-western states reported Salmonella Saintpaul illnesses among residents. By March 18, the total number of confirmed cases in the outbreak had risen to 121, including 84 from Nebraska, 27 from Iowa, and five each from South Dakota and Kansas. All illnesses were linked to sprout products grown and sold by CW Sprouts. In total, thirteen states reported 228 confirmed illnesses in both outbreak clusters.

Jimmy John’s, is the third time the charm?  And, with some 40 other prior outbreaks linked to sprouts in the last two decades, it is not like you are not on notice of a problem.

With the number of Salmonella or E. coli Outbreaks linked to sprout consumption nearly 40 in the last few decades by my count, perhaps banning sales of sprouts across state lines would both limit the size of these outbreaks and jump-start small, local, sustainable agriculture?

alf-spr5.jpgThis recent Outbreak, according to the CDC is expanding:

  • From November 1 through December 27, 2010, 94 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:-, whose illnesses began since November 1, have been reported from 16 states and the District of Columbia. The number of ill people identified in each state with the outbreak strain is as follows: California (1), Connecticut (1), District of Columbia (1), Georgia (1), Hawaii (1), Iowa (1), Illinois (51), Indiana (9), Massachusetts (1), Missouri (17), New York (1), Pennsylvania (2), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), Texas (1), Virginia (1), and Wisconsin (3).
  • Preliminary results of the investigation indicate a link to eating Tiny Greens brand Alfalfa Sprouts at Jimmy John’s restaurant outlets.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a press release advising consumers not to eat Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy Sprouts (which contain alfalfa sprouts mixed with radish and clover sprouts) from Tiny Greens Organic Farm of Urbana, Illinois. The sprouts were distributed in 4 oz. and 5 lb. containers to various customers, including farmers’ markets, restaurants and groceries, in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and possibly other Midwestern states.
  • The CDC warns consumers should not eat Tiny Greens brand Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts, and restaurant and food service operators should not serve them. Consumers, retailers and others who have Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts should dispose of them in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can. This will prevent people or animals from eating them.

Here are a few Outbreaks that we have been involved in recently:

Screen shot 2010-12-27 at 6.04.34 PM.pngIn a press release this afternoon, the FDA warned – “Don’t Eat Tiny Greens Brand Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts.”

• The FDA is advising consumers not to eat Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy Sprouts (which contain alfalfa sprouts mixed with radish and clover sprouts) from Tiny Greens Organic Farm of Urbana, Ill. The sprouts were distributed in 4 oz. and 5 lb. containers to various customers, including farmers’ markets, restaurants and groceries, in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and possibly other Midwestern states.

• Preliminary results of the investigation of a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections indicate a link to eating Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts at Jimmy John’s restaurant outlets.

• The elderly, infants and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.

• Consumers should not eat Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts. Consumers, retailers and others who have Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts should discard them in a sealed container so people and animals, including wild animals, cannot eat them.

little-bear-logo.jpgThe “precautionary, voluntary recall” announced Monday pertains to cilantro and parsley from J&D Produce, Inc., packed between November 30 and December 6, by the Edinburg, Texas-based company.

The J&D Produce recall came after independent tests found salmonella on the company’s parsley in Quebec and its cilantro in Detroit, Michigan, both of which came from the same processing line in Texas. The Cilantro and parsley was processed and branded as “Little Bear.”

The company’s products are sold retail as well as to wholesalers, who may then distribute them to restaurants and other establishments, according to Sharon McNerney, a public relations consultant for the company.

The recall involves 2,498 cases of the parsley — which have expiration dates 12 days after being packed — that went out to the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario and the U.S. states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

The 4,411 recalled cases of cilantro, carrying the same packing and expiration dates, were distributed in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin as well as Quebec and Ontario.

For those who like lists, here is a fairly complete list of outbreaks linked to sprouts in the United States and Canada the last 20 years.

Year Type Pathogen Cases

1990 Alfalfa S. Anatum 15

1995 Alfalfa S. Stanley 128

1995 Alfalfa S. Newport 133

1995 Alfalfa S. Newport 69

1996 Alfalfa S. Stanley 30

1996 Alfalfa S. Montevideo 650

1997 Alfalfa S. Infantis 109

1997 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 108

1997 Alfalfa S. Senftenberg 60

1997 Alfalfa S. Meleagridis 78

1998 Alfalfa S. Havana 40

1998 Alfalfa E. coli O157:NM 8

1999 Alfalfa S. Mbandaka 83

1999 Alfalfa S. Typhimurium 119

1999 Alfalfa S. Muenchen 61

1999 Alfalfa S. paratyphi B 51

1999 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 34

1999 Alfalfa S. Muenchen 38

1999 Clover S. Saintpaul 36

2000 Mung S. Enteritidis 75

2000 Mung S. Enteritidis 12

2001 Alfalfa S. Kottbus 32

2001 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 22

2001 Mung S. Enteritidis 84

2002 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 7

2003 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 9

2003 Alfalfa S. Chester 26

2003 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 7

2003 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 16

2003 Alfalfa E. coli O157:NM 13

2004 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 12

2005 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 1

2005 Mung Salmonella spp. 648

2006 Bean S. Braenderup 4

2008 Alfalfa S. Typhimurium 13

2009 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 6

2009 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 235

2010 Alfalfa S. Newport 43

2010 Alfalfa S. I 4,[5],12:i:- 89

*Thanks to the CDC and Dr. Ben Chapman

You guessed it – Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:-. The recent Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- Outbreak linked to sprouts served at Jimmy John’s restaurants is the third I 4,[5],12:i:- outbreak in the last two years.

Screen shot 2010-12-25 at 7.36.58 PM.pngMultistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- Infections Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts sold at Jimmy John’s

From November 1 to December 21, 2010, a total of 89 individuals with a matching strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:- have been reported from 15 states and the District of Columbia. The number of ill people identified in each state with the outbreak strain is as follows: Connecticut (1), District of Columbia (1), Georgia (1), Hawaii (1), Iowa (1), Illinois (50), Indiana (9), Massachusetts (1), Missouri (14), New York (1), Pennsylvania (2), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), Texas (1), Virginia (1), and Wisconsin (3).

Screen shot 2010-12-25 at 7.37.53 PM.pngMultistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- Infections Associated with Frozen Rodents

On July 29, 2010, a total of 34 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:- were reported from 17 states since January 1, 2010. The number of ill persons identified in each state with this strain is as follows: AL (1), AZ (1), CO (1), GA (7), IA (1), IL (3), MA (3), MI (1), MO (3), NC (3), NV (1), NY (2), SC (1), TN (1), VA (1), WI (3), and WY (1).

Screen shot 2010-12-25 at 7.39.39 PM.pngMultistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- Infections linked to ConAgra Pot Pies

Between January 1, 2007 and October 29, 2007, at least 272 isolates of Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- with an indistinguishable genetic fingerprint have been collected from ill persons in 35 states. Ill persons whose Salmonella strain has this genetic fingerprint have been reported from Arizona (1 person), Arkansas (4), California (18), Colorado (9), Connecticut (7), Delaware (5), Florida (2), Georgia (2), Idaho (11), Illinois (7), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (4), Kentucky (9), Massachusetts (7), Maryland (7), Maine (2), Michigan (3), Minnesota (7), Missouri (18), Montana (6), Nevada (6), New York (10), North Carolina (2), Ohio (11), Oklahoma (1), Oregon (4), Pennsylvania (18), Tennessee (6), Texas (4), Utah (12), Virginia (9), Vermont (2), Washington (27), Wisconsin (24), Wyoming (3).

After three outbreaks, don’t you think that Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- deserves a proper serotype name. Hmmm, how does Salmonella Marler sound?

Since 1996, there have been nearly 40 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts. Most of these outbreaks were caused by Salmonella and E. coli. Here are a few that we have been involved in:

And, now there is another one. According to today’s report from the CDC, between November 1 through December 27, 2010, 94 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:- have been reported from 16 states and the District of Columbia. The number of ill people identified in each state with the outbreak strain is as follows: California (1), Connecticut (1), District of Columbia (1), Georgia (1), Hawaii (1), Iowa (1), Illinois (51), Indiana (9), Massachusetts (1), Missouri (17), New York (1), Pennsylvania (2), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), Texas (1), Virginia (1), and Wisconsin (3). Collaborative investigative efforts of local, state, and federal public health and regulatory agencies have linked this outbreak to consumption of Tiny Greens Organic Farm’s Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy Sprouts. The sprouts were distributed to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri, and may also have been distributed to other Midwestern states. Approximately half of the illnesses occurred in Illinois, where many of the ill individuals ate sandwiches containing sprouts at various Jimmy John’s outlets. Jimmy John’s restaurants have voluntarily suspended serving sprouts at their Illinois franchise locations.

The FDA has been warning producers and consumers for over a decade about the risk of sprouts – “Guidance for Industry: Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards For Sprouted Seeds.”  In facts, both the FDA and CDC have repeatedly posted this:  REMINDER for high risk populations: CDC and FDA recommend at all times that persons at high risk for complications from Salmonella infection, such as the elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems, not eat raw sprouts. For such persons who continue to eat sprouts, FDA recommends cooking them.

Here is a bit of a primer on a Salmonella Infection:

Also, please remember that severe complications can arise from Salmonella or E. coli Outbreaks:

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Reactive Arthritis