May 2014

The CDC reports as of May 27, 2014, a total of 126 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Infantis or Salmonella Newport have been reported from 26 states. Since the last update on May 8, 2014, a total of 66 new ill persons have been reported from 18 states: Alabama (4), Colorado (1), Georgia (5), Illinois (1), Indiana (1), Kentucky (2), Maine (4), Montana (1), New Hampshire (1), New Mexico (1), New York (6), North Carolina (11), Ohio (7), Pennsylvania (7), South Carolina (3), Tennessee (5), Virginia (5), and West Virginia (1).  35% of ill persons have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback findings have linked this outbreak of human Salmonella Infantis and Salmonella Newport infections to contact with chicks, ducklings, and other live poultry from Mt. Healthy Hatcheries in Ohio.

82% of ill people reported contact with live poultry in the week before their illness began.

Samples from live poultry and the environments where the poultry live and roam were collected from two ill persons’ homes in Vermont. Testing of these samples yielded one of the outbreak strains of Salmonella Infantis.

Findings of multiple traceback investigations of live baby poultry from homes of ill persons have identified Mt. Healthy Hatcheries in Ohio as the source of chicks and ducklings. This is the same mail-order hatchery that has been associated with multiple outbreaks of Salmonella infections linked to live poultry in past years, including in 2012 and 2013.

From my friends at Food Safety News:

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that organic sprouted chia powder distributed by Navitas Naturals of Novato, California is the likely source of what he CDC reports as a total of 12 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Newport reported from 7 states: Arizona (1), California (2), Connecticut (1), Massachusetts (1), New York (4), Utah (1), and Wisconsin (2).  Chia powder is made from ground dried chia seeds.  The FDA announced a recall.  The affected products were distributed nationally and include:

  • Navitas Naturals Organic Sprouted Chia Powder, 8oz, UPC 858847000369 with best buy dates from 04/30/2015 through 09/05/2015
  • Navitas Naturals Omega Blend Sprouted Smoothie Mix, 8oz, UPC 858847000314 with best buy dates from 07/29/2015 through 09/19/2015
  • Williams-Sonoma Omega 3 Smoothie Mixer, 8 oz, SKU 506436 with best buy dates from 09/12/2015 through 10/02/2015

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses.

Ken Carlson of the Modesto Bee reports that Foster Farms is suing Orkin LLC, charging the pest control company was to blame for cockroaches that resulted in a three-day shutdown of its Livingston poultry facility in January.  The lawsuit, filed late last month in Merced County Superior Court, claims that Orkin should pay damages for failing to fulfill a contract to control cockroaches at the processing plant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended operations at the Foster Farms plant for three days in January because cockroaches were found at the plant on four occasions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly has tied 574 cases of salmonella illness to raw chicken from the Foster Farms plant in Livingston and two smaller plants in Fresno. The Food Safety and Inspection Service notified Foster Farms last fall that the presence of cockroaches was a sign of unsanitary conditions at the plant.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the nonprofit food safety watchdog group, is asking the court to require USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to respond to a three-year-old regulatory petition in which CSPI urged the agency to treat antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella as adulterants in order to prevent the sale and distribution of tainted meat – specifically, ground beef and poultry.

The four strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella named in CSPI’s 2011 petition— Heidelberg, Newport, Hadar, and Typhimurium—have been implicated in dozens of outbreaks linked to ground turkey burgers, ground beef, and other products.

Yet another reason to hate insurance companies.

Law360 reports that Maryland Casualty Co. has asked a Pennsylvania federal court Friday to limit its liability to $2 million for its insured’s, Fallon Trading Co.’s, role in brokering a shipment of pomegranate seeds from Untied Juice/ GoKnur from Turkey that sickened 162 consumers with hepatitis A and caused at least 25,000 to seek preventative vaccines. Fallon sold the seeds to Purely Pomegranate, which then sold them to Townsend Farms Corp., which sold them to Costco.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July identified GoKnur’s pomegranate seeds as the most likely source of last year’s hepatitis A outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found at least 162 people from 10 states became ill from the infected seeds. The FDA and the CDC announced the outbreak in late May 2013, linking it to a frozen fruit blend made by the Oregon berry grower Townsend Farms Corp. Another Oregon company, Scenic Fruit Co., recalled its frozen organic pomegranate kernels after the agencies found they may be contaminated with hepatitis A. Pomegranate seeds from Goknur were the only ingredient common to all of the recalled products, according to the FDA.

Maryland Casualty is seeking a declaratory judgment that despite a $4 million aggregate limit in its policy, it is required to indemnify Fallon for only $2 million because of a cap on occurrence liability. Maryland Casualty argues that even though there are thousands of claims, they all stem from one accident.

Fallon complaint

The CDC reports this evening that another 50 have been added to the Foster Farm’s illness column since April 2014.

Since March 1, 2013, a total of 574 individuals infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 27 states and Puerto Rico. Most of the ill persons (76%) have been reported from California. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Alaska (1), Arkansas (1), Arizona (25), California (441), Colorado (9), Connecticut (1), Delaware (1), Florida (4), Georgia (1), Hawaii (1), Idaho (5), Illinois (1), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Michigan (4), Missouri (5), Montana (1), North Carolina (1), Nevada (11), New Mexico (2), Oregon (14), Puerto Rico (1), Tennessee (1), Texas (13), Utah (6), Virginia (4), Washington (17), and Wisconsin (1).

37% of ill persons have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported. Most ill persons (77%) have been reported from California.

Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicate that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken is the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections.

The outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics. Although these antibiotics are not typically used to treat Salmonella bloodstream infections or other severe Salmonella infections, antibiotic resistance can be associated with increased risk of hospitalization in infected individuals.

 

Gary T. Kubota, reporter at the Star Adveritser, reported that about 100 guests and workers at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel fell sick from an infectious virus — called norovirus — about two weeks ago.

I stayed there a few years ago with my daughters.  While I gave a speech at a food safety conference, my girls got surfing lessons.

According to Kubota, two new reports of similar symptoms around the middle of last week prompted state health officials to personally supervise disinfection measures at the hotel.  According to health officials, the illness probably started the week before last and that Royal Hawaiian managers called early on the weekend of May 16 to report the outbreak.

The kitchen was shut down voluntarily by the hotel until Wednesday because it was a possible point of infection. The new cases have not been confirmed as resulting from norovirus.  The kitchen was closed as a precautionary measure to halt any potential spread of the virus through the food service itself.

Norovirus, able to be transmitted by an infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces, is “very hardy” in the environment and doesn’t take a lot to spread.

The virus causes the stomach, intestines or both to get inflamed, leading to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The CDC said the noro­virus causes 19 million to 21 million illnesses annually and contributes to 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations.  Those most affected by the virus are infants and young children who suffer dehydration during the illness, and older adults with underlying medical conditions.

Fuego’s Tortilla Grill Restaurant voluntarily shut down today amid an investigation by the Brazos County Health Department into an outbreak of a food-borne illness.  Health department officials said they started looking into a cluster of Salmonella Typhimurium-Ohio serotype cases in September 2013 and have documented 30 cases with 26 being residents of Brazos County or having traveled through the county.  No deaths have been reported.

Sound familiar?  It made me think of past outbreaks and past lawsuits.  Here is a list of Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks – and lawsuits – at Mexican-style restaurants over the last several years.

Salmonella

Café Santa Fe Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuit – Arkansas (2005) On May 1, 2005, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADOH) issued a press release announcing that at least nine people had been confirmed ill with Salmonella infections after eating at the Café Santa Fe restaurant in Benton, Arkansas.  The ADOH instructed anyone who had eaten at the restaurant in the previous seven days, and who was suffering symptoms like cramping, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and headache, to seek medical care as soon as possible.  During the epidemiologic investigation into the outbreak, ADOH learned that one or two employees at Café Santa Fe had worked within days of seeking medical treatment for diarrhea or vomiting.  ADOH conducted an environmental inspection of Café Santa Fe on April 30, and inspectors identified several unsafe food-handling practices.

Casa Lopez Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Ohio (2010) In May of 2010, the Athens City County Health Department (ACCHD) began investigating what appeared to be a foodborne illness outbreak among patrons of the Casa Lopez restaurant in Athens, Ohio.  Public health investigators identified a total of 41 culture-confirmed cases of Salmonella serotype Enteritidis.  An additional 14 case-patients who were not laboratory confirmed but were epidemiologically linked to the Casa Lopez restaurant were classified as either “probable” or “suspected” cases.  The investigation into the Salmonella outbreak among Casa Lopez customers revealed several critical violations at the restaurant over multiple inspections.  Investigators concluded that there was a strong association between eating chiles rellenos and Salmonella infection.

Iguana Joe’s Restaurant Salmonella Lawsuit & Litigation – Texas (2013) On June 25, 2013, Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services investigated a report of illness from a customer who had eaten at the Iguana Joe’s restaurant in Humble, Texas.  Iguana Joe’s was temporarily shut down due to critical health violations.  Multiple health inspections revealed dozens of health violations at the restaurant. The health department ultimately linked over a dozen people sick with Salmonella infections to the Iguana Joe’s restaurant.  Seven were children who had fallen ill with Salmonella after eating at the restaurant.

Los Dos Amigos Mexican Restaurant Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Oregon (2010) In April 2010, the Douglas County (Oregon) Health Department announced a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak linked to Rosenberg-based Mexican restaurant Los Dos Amigos.  When the investigation was completed in May 2010, health officials confirmed at least 30 people had been sickened in the outbreak, which was deemed the result of cross contamination.

On the Border Mexican Restaurant Salmonella Outbreak – Washington (2012) Clark County Public Health investigated the Salmonella outbreak after receiving reports of Salmonella infection from local health care providers.  By October 24, at least 117 confirmed and suspected Salmonella cases had been traced to the restaurant.  At least 4 Salmonella outbreak victims were hospitalized during the Salmonella outbreak.  One remained in the hospital on October 15.  Both patrons and food workers had become ill with Salmonella infections and the source of he Salmonella outbreak had not yet been identified.  According to Clark County Public Health, the serotype of Salmonella associated with this outbreak was Salmonella Virchow, a rare strain of Salmonella that has never before been seen in Clark County.

San Antonio Taco Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Tennessee (2000) In August of 2000, over 200 people became ill with Salmonella infections after eating food from a San Antonio Taco Company franchise located in Nashville, Tennessee.  After it became aware of the outbreak, the Metropolitan Health Department (MHD) of Nashville conducted an investigation into the outbreak, including an environmental health inspection of the restaurant and an epidemiologic investigation.  During the inspection on August 10, MHD noted several sources of possible cross-contamination.

Taco Bell Salmonella Hartford and Baildon Outbreak Lawsuits – Nationwide (2010) In early August, 2010 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that they had identified two multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella, encompassing 155 ill persons in 21 states.  Although CDC referred to the source as an unnamed Mexican Food Chain “Restaurant Chain A”, it was later revealed that the restaurant was Taco Bell.  Not all of the illnesses are connected to the restaurant chain, and no specific location is indicated. The two strains (or serotypes) of Salmonella in the outbreaks are quite rare: Salmonella Hartford and Salmonella Baildon.  Since April 1, 2010, a total of 75 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Hartford have been reported from 15 states.  The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Colorado (1 ill), GA (1 ill), IL (5), IN (11), KY (23), MA (2), MI (3), MT (1), NC (1), NH (1), NY (1), OH (19), PA (1), SC (1) and WI (4).  As of May 1, 2010 a total of 80 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Baildon have been reported from 15 states.  Some states are involved in both outbreaks – others are not.  The number of ill people identified in each state with Salmonella Baildon is as follows: CT (1), GA (1), IA (1), IL (20), IN (4), KY (5), MA (1), MI (4), MN (5), NJ (6), NY (2), OH (6), OR (1), WA (1) and WI (22).

Taco Bell Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Multistate (2012) On January 19, 2012 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an investigation into a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak that had sickened 68 people and hospitalized 21 in the following 10 states:  Texas (43), Oklahoma (16), Kansas (2), Iowa (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1), and Tennessee (1).  The CDC would only say that a Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, referred to only as “Restaurant A” was the source of the outbreak.  In the days and weeks that followed the announcement the CDC never named the company and defended its decision stating that the contaminated food was no longer in circulation and, thus was no longer a risk to consumers.

E. coli

Federico’s Mexican Restaurant: According to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, at least 94 people fell ill with E. coli infections after eating food purchased at Federico’s in late July and early August of 2013.  Of those, at least 23 people were hospitalized due to their E. coli infections, some with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure.  The health department issued a final report in November 2013.  In the report, MCDPH states that lettuce was the source of the E. coli outbreak at Federico’s.  The health department investigation did not conclusively answer whether the lettuce was cross-contaminated with another food in the restaurant or if the lettuce entered the restaurant already contaminated.

Los Burritos Mexicanos: An E. coli outbreak in DuPage County, Illinois, is suspected to have been caused by food served at the Los Burritos Mexicanos restaurant in Lombard.  The restaurant was closed on June 14, 2013 during an E. coli outbreak investigation.  The DuPage County Health Department counted 31 confirmed and probable E. coli cases as part of the Los Burritos Mexicanos outbreak.

Ixtapa Family Mexican Restaurant:  In October of 2008, Snohomish County Health Department (SCHD) epidemiologists investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among patrons of the Ixtapa Family Mexican Restaurant in Lake Stevens, Washington.  Dates of illness onset ranged from October 7-17, 2008.  An investigation by the SCHD and the Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH) identified sixty-four cases of E. coli infection linked to the consumption of food at Ixtapa restaurant.  Four confirmed cases were hospitalized, and one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe complication of E. coli that can lead to kidney failure.

El Mexicano Mexican Restaurant:  In May of 2012, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced that it was investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that had sickened 11 individuals in the Spartanburg area. All 11 victims reported eating at the same El Mexicano Mexican restaurant. Two of the victims developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Illnesses were related to eating at the restaurant during the last week of April.

Coco Locos Restaurant: In May 2013, the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Brazos County, Texas is being investigated by public health officials and is believed to have been caused by E. coli-contaminated ground beef served at the Coco Locos restaurant located in 300 block of George Bush Drive in College Station, TX.  According to news reports, at least 10 people were part of the E. coli outbreak, which has been linked to ground beef served at the restaurant.  Health officials have not yet determined whether the E. coli outbreak stemmed from under-cooked ground beef or from cross-contamination between raw ground beef and other foods or surfaces in the restaurant kitchen.

Habaneros Mexican Restaurant: In late August of 2003, staff in the Communicable Disease (CD) section at the St. Clair County Health Department (SCCHD) received a report that four Illinois residents who had recently traveled to the St. Clair area were experiencing bloody diarrhea and had gone to emergency rooms in their respective hometowns for treatment.  On Tuesday, September 2, SCCHD was notified that E. coli O157:H7 had been isolated from at least one of the four people’s stool specimens.  At the same time, the SCCHD began receiving other reports of diarrheal illness in patients seen by local physicians.  Preliminary interviews of ill persons revealed that all had eaten at Habaneros prior to the onset of diarrhea.   SCCHD conducted a foodborne outbreak investigation and found that of 64 persons, including seven employees, who had eaten at Habaneros between August 15, 2003 and September 5, 2003, thirty (47%) reported having diarrheal symptoms; ten sought medical care.  An extensive food consumption history was obtained from each person interviewed, but no specific food-item was statistically associated with illness.

Taco Johns:  In December 2006, Iowa and Minnesota health officials investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among patrons at Taco John’s restaurants in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Albert Lea and Austin, Minnesota. As of December 13, 2006, the Iowa Department of Health had confirmed that at least 50 Iowans had become ill with E. coli infections after eating at Taco John’s, and the Minnesota Department of Health had confirmed that at least 27 Minnesotans were part of the outbreak.

Taco Bell:  Taco Bell restaurants were the source of an E. coli outbreak during the last week of November and the beginning of December 2006. Residents of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Carolina were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being part of the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak, which was traced to contaminated lettuce served in foods at Taco Bell restaurants. On December 13, 2006, the CDC announced that at 71 people had become ill with E. coli infections associated with the Taco Bell restaurant outbreak. Of those 71, 53 people had been hospitalized, 48 people were confirmed ill with E. coli, and 8 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Scott Maben of the Spokesman Review reported this week that Washington and Idaho health officials say people should avoid eating raw clover sprouts from an Idaho producer after the sprouts were linked to seven confirmed and three probable cases of E. coli illness in the Northwest.

The cases include five people in Spokane County, three in Kootenai County and two in King County. All took ill in the past two weeks and five were hospitalized. Nine of the 10 individuals reported eating sprouts in sandwiches served at restaurants about five days before they were sick.

The initial investigation indicates a strong link to spouts supplied by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts of Moyie Springs, Idaho, near Bonners Ferry, the Washington and Idaho state health departments said. The clover sprouts suspected in the current E. coli O121 outbreak were eaten in sandwiches at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches in King and Spokane counties, two Pita Pit locations in Spokane County, and Daanen’s Deli and a Jimmy John’s in Kootenai County, Washington state health officials said. The restaurants voluntarily suspended serving sprouts, officials said.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 50 percent hospitalization rate.

According to Maben, David Scharf, owner of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, said state health officials jumped the gun pointing the finger at his business.  “I find that it is very ambiguous to say that my product is bad,” Scharf told The Spokesman-Review.  He said he tests his sprouts before they leave the warehouse and also tests the spent water, according to federal rules. “I have documentation stating my sprouts are good.”  Officials should keep quiet until they know for certain what the source of the infection is, Scharf added.  “It’s kind of sad that we’re going to put the cart before the horse, really,” he said.

Sounded a bit familiar.

Food Safety News reported in 2011, that Federal inspectors documented unsanitary conditions and food-safety lapses at the Idaho sprout-growing facility implicated in an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses earlier this year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In a warning letter sent Oct. 19 to Nadine Scharf, president and owner of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts of Moyie Springs, Idaho, the FDA says it found dirty pipes dripping onto uncovered sprouts and employees not donning clean gloves or aprons before they worked with sprouts.

In late June, Scharf initially balked at recalling sprouts that had been linked to about 20 Salmonella infections in five states. Nine of the first 13 people sickened in the outbreak had reported eating the alfalfa sprouts before they became ill, but Scharf told local media she wanted “concrete evidence” that her sprouts had caused the outbreak.

The FDA and Idaho public health officials took the unusual step of warning consumers not to eat Evergreen Produce-brand alfalfa sprouts or spicy sprouts.

Scharf later relented and agreed to recall the sprouts, and the FDA acknowledges her cooperation in the warning letter. As of July 6, the Salmonella outbreak had sickened 25 people in Washington, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota and New Jersey and sent at least three people to the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although sprout samples and surfaces inside the Evergreen facility did not test positive for Salmonella, the FDA warning letter says its investigators “documented insanitary conditions and practices that may have contributed directly or indirectly to contamination of your sprouts with pathogens,” and said the sprouts were considered to be adulterated, as defined by federal law.

Among the conditions and practices FDA said it observed:

Workers operating hoist controls and then handling sprouts without washing and sanitizing or changing their gloves

Workers leaving the production area and building without removing gloves or aprons, and then returning to handle sprouts without sanitizing or changing the clothing

A worker donning an apron by lowering it until it touched the floor, then stepping into it

Dirty, apparently mold-covered waterlines on the ceiling dripping condensate into uncovered vats of germinated sprouts

Dirt and sprout residue on the ceiling above the bean harvester tank and the bean soak tank

A dirty oscillating fan blowing directly onto sprouts awaiting spin drying

A dirty cooling blower in the refrigerated truck used to deliver sprouts

Inoperable floor drains, which caused pooled water that workers walked through and that could splash onto food-contact surfaces or sprouts

A pitchfork, used on finished sprouts, stored in a dirty bucket

Bean sprout residue inside equipment after employees said the equipment had been cleaned and was ready to use

The FDA warning letter said investigators provided Scharf with the agency’s 1999 guidance on how to reduce microbial food safety hazards for sprouts and also referred her to videos related to sprout safety the agency developed in partnership with the University of California at Davis.

I guess lightning does strike twice in the sprout business?

So, in addition to questioning why a restaurant or grocery store might purchase sprouts from a company with a record like Evergreen’s, you have to wonder why Jimmy John’s has no ability to learn from the past.

Multistate Jimmy John’s Restaurants Raw Clover Sprouts 2011 – 14 Sickened (possibly 19) – On February 15, 2012, the Centers for Disease Control announced an ongoing investigation into illnesses linked to the consumption of raw clover sprouts consumed at Jimmy John’s Restaurants in several states. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Iowa (5), Missouri (3), Kansas (2), Michigan (2), Arkansas (1), and Wisconsin (1). Among 11 ill persons with information available, 10 (91%) reported eating at a Jimmy John’s sandwich restaurant in the 7 days preceding illness. Ill persons reported eating at 9 different locations of Jimmy John’s restaurants in 4 states in the week before becoming ill. One Jimmy John’s restaurant location was identified where more than one ill person reported eating in the week before becoming ill. Among the 10 ill persons who reported eating at a Jimmy John’s restaurant location, 8 (80%) reported eating a sandwich containing sprouts, and 9 (90%) reported eating a sandwich containing lettuce. Currently, no other common grocery stores or restaurants are associated with illnesses. Preliminary traceback information has identified a common lot of clover seeds used to grow clover sprouts served at Jimmy John’s restaurant locations where ill persons ate. FDA and states conducted a traceback that identified two separate sprouting facilities; both used the same lot of seed to grow clover sprouts served at these Jimmy John’s restaurant locations. On February 10, 2012, the seed supplier initiated notification of sprouting facilities that received this lot of clover seed to stop using it. Investigations are ongoing to identify other locations that may have sold clover sprouts grown from this seed lot.

Sprouters Northwest, Jimmy John’s Restaurants Clover Sprouts 2010 – 7 Sickened – Sprouters Northwest of Kent, Washington, issued a product recall after the company’s clover sprouts had been implicated in an outbreak of Salmonella Newport in Oregon and Washington. At least some of the cases had consumed clover sprouts while at a Jimmy John’s restaurants. Jimmy John’s Restaurants are a restaurant chain that sells sandwiches. Concurrent with this outbreak, a separate Salmonella outbreak (Salmonella, serotype I 4,5,12,i- ; see Multistate Outbreak, Tiny Greens Organic Farm, Jimmy John’s Restaurants), involving alfalfa sprouts served at Jimmy John’s restaurants was under investigation. The recall of Northwest Sprouters products included: clover; clover & onion; spicy sprouts; and deli sprouts. The Sprouters Northwest products had been sold to grocery stores and wholesale operations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The FDA inspection found serious sanitary violations.

Multistate Outbreak, Tiny Greens Organic Farm, Jimmy John’s Restaurants Alfalfa Sprouts 2010 – 140 Sickened – On December 17, the Illinois Department of Health announced that an investigation was underway into an outbreak of Salmonella, serotype I4,[5],12:i:-. Many of the Illinois cases had eaten alfalfa sprouts at various Jimmy John’s restaurants in the Illinois counties of: Adams, Champaign, Cook, DuPage, Kankakee, Macon, McHenry, McLean, Peoria, and Will counties. The sprouts were suspected to be the cause of the illnesses. On December 21, Jimmy John Liautaud, the owner of the franchised restaurant chain, requested that all franchisees remove sprouts from the menu as a “precautionary” measure. On December 23, the Centers for Disease Control revealed that outbreak cases had been detected in other states and that the outbreak was linked with eating alfalfa sprouts while at a nationwide sandwich chain. On December 26, preliminary results of the investigation indicated a link to eating Tiny Greens’ Alfalfa Sprouts at Jimmy John’s restaurant outlets. The FDA subsequently advised consumers and restaurants to avoid Tiny Greens Brand Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy Sprouts produced by Tiny Greens Organic Farm of Urbana, Illinois. The Spicy Sprouts contained alfalfa, radish and clover sprouts. On January 14, 2011, it was revealed that the FDA had isolated Salmonella serotype I4,[5],12:i:- from a water runoff sample collected from Tiny Greens Organic Farm; the Salmonella isolated was indistinguishable from the outbreak strain. The several FDA inspections of the sprout growing facility revealed factors that likely led to contamination of the sprouts.

CW Sprouts, Inc., SunSprout Sprouts, “restaurant chain (Chain A),” a.k.a. Jimmy Johns 2009 – 256 Sickened – In February, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services officials identified six isolates of Salmonella Saintpaul. Although this is a common strain of Salmonella, during 2008, only three cases had been detected in Nebraska and only four subtypes of this outbreak strain had been identified in 2008 in the entire USA. As additional reports were made, a case control study was conducted; alfalfa sprout consumption was found to be significantly related to illness. The initial tracebacks of the sprouts indicated that although the sprouts had been distributed by various companies, the sprouts from the first cases originated from the same sprouting facility in Omaha, Nebraska. Forty-two of the illnesses beginning on March 15 were attributed to sprout growing facilities in other states; these facilities had obtained seed from the same seed producer, Caudill Seed Company of Kentucky. The implicated seeds had been sold in many states. On April 26, the FDA and CDC recommended that consumers not eat raw alfalfa sprouts, including sprout blends containing alfalfa sprouts. In May, FDA alerted sprout growers and retailers that a seed supplier, Caudill Seed Company of Kentucky, was withdrawing all alfalfa seeds with a specific three-digit prefix.  Many of the illnesses occurred at “restaurant chain (Chain A).

 

The below is from a press release in 2011 – I need to rethink how I spend money and I need to update the sprout outbreak totals.

In the face of recent E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks linked to sprouts, food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler, managing partner of Seattle-based Marler Clark, is calling on seed and sprout producers to take a hard, realistic look at the danger their product poses to consumers.

Though the month of June was dubbed “International Sprout Health & Wellness Month” by the International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA), the world has seen at least three sprout-based foodborne illness outbreaks this month, including the deadliest in history: the E. coli O104:H4 outbreak in Germany that has killed nearly 50, landed over 800 in the hospital with hemolytic uremic syndrome, and sickened 4,000. More recently, France has seen a cluster of E. coli O104:H4 infections related to sprout seeds, and in the U.S., an Idaho sprout farm had been linked to at least 21 Salmonella illnesses as of June 28th. According to OutbreakDatabase.com there have been a total four sprout-based foodborne illness outbreaks in 2011 and 48 since 1991.

“We’ve seen about 4,000 people get sick this year. Another 44 have died because they ate sprouts, and I don’t think it is altogether clear what sprout growers are planning to do about it,” said Marler.

In January of this year, Marler donated $10,000 to the ISGA for improving the safety of sprouts. In an interview with the agriculture news organization The Packer, ISGA president Bob Sanderson said Marler’s donation would help speed implementation of a food safety audit for sprouts and anticipated a start to the audit of February 1, 2011. However, in June the ISGA told Food Safety News the audit was still being developed.

In light of the most recent sprout-related outbreaks, Marler renewed his call on the sprout industry to put warning labels on sprout packaging.

“If this were another product that wasn’t considered a healthy food, we as a society would have a much bigger issue with the atrocious food safety track record of sprouts, but because sprouts are considered healthy—the ISGA eventouts them as a ‘wonder food’, our first reaction isn’t to associate risk with consumption,” said Marler.

“Those of us entrenched in food safety know how dangerous sprouts can be, but the average person does not. At the very least, consumers deserve to be given equal information regarding the risks and benefits of sprouts. A warning label would provide this.”

According to the FDA, sprouts pose a special problem because of the potential for pathogen growth during the sprouting process.

Marler specifically urges seed and sprout producers to adopt the following measures to prevent pathogen growth on sprouts and protect consumers:

1. Seed manufacturers must adopt good agricultural practices to limit bacterial contamination on seed plants.
2. Seed manufacturers must adopt a chemical or other treatment on seeds to kill bacteria
3. Sprout manufacturers must adopt good manufacturing processes that include the use of clean water, healthy workers and a hygienic environment.
4. Sprout sellers must place adequate warning labels on all sprout containers informing consumers of bacterial and viral risks associated with sprout consumption.