Earlier this year, the CDC found that from November 1, 2010, through February 9, 2011, 140 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,,12:i:-, whose illnesses began since November 1, were reported from 26 states and the District of Columbia. Results of the investigation indicated a link to eating Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts at Jimmy John’s restaurant outlets. Testing FDA of one environmental (water run-off) sample identified Salmonella serotype I 4,,12:i:- that was indistinguishable from the outbreak strain.
Yet, yesterday from the pages of the pages of the Chicago Tribune came this from the owner of Tiny Greens:
But sprout grower Bill Bagby says that, for many like him, the nutritional benefits outweigh the risk.
“Sprouts are kind of a magical thing,” says Bagby, owner of Tiny Greens, a sprout farm in Urbana, Ill. “In terms of vitamins they’re just off the charts compared to normal produce.”
One month ago the FDA issued its warning letter to Tiny Greens. Among the violations noted during the FDA’s inspection:
• Run-off water from the compost pile was pooling into a drain along the walkway 11 feet from the entrance to the greenhouse. The subsample that yielded the Salmonella outbreak strain was taken from this site. An employee entered the compost area to dump production waste. After walking through the compost pile and water that had pooled along the walkway, the employee returned to the production area wearing the same clothing and boots that he had worn outside.
• The sink employees use to wash their hands in the lunchroom before entering the production area had a hose with a valve on its end that was leaking water onto the floor where there was a substantial amount of foot traffic. Organic matter, in conjunction with wet conditions, such as those observed in your facility, foster the growth of Salmonella and other pathogens.
• An employee placed a screen from a shaker table on the floor and rinsed it with a hose. This operation was performed within 2 inches of open trays of germinated sprouts. Aerosol water droplets from the water stream onto the floor were splashing into the trays of germinated sprouts.
• Germination drum plexi-glass doors were stored on the drum frames less than 12 inches from the floor. The drum closest to the greenhouse door had all four doors stored in this manner. Water and debris from the floor was observed splashed onto the doors. The doors were not cleaned prior to installation on the germination drum.
• Sprouts were unloaded from the germination drums into white perforated pails on dollies. When the dollies were rolled to the table for placing the sprouts in trays, water from the rotating wheels on the floor was observed splashing up on the perforated pails with access to the sprouts.
Additionally, and as a very likely route by which contamination happened in the outbreak, the FDA noted:
We observed that micro-greens were being grown using the compost you generate at your facility. We acknowledge that in your letter dated February 6, 2011, (b)(4). Because the pathogen implicated in the outbreak that occurred between November 1, 2010 and February 9, 2011 was isolated from run-off from your compost, we strongly recommend that all compost you use to grow food is treated with a scientifically valid process to kill pathogens, and that you have an adequate monitoring program to verify your process.
See also, FDA Inspection 483.
Think that a German-style E. coli outbreak cannot happen here with “magical” thinking? Think again.