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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Bill Bagby and Tiny Greens Sprout Farm are full of, well, a fecal bacteria, Salmonella – “Sprouts are kind of a magical thing,” my ass.

Screen shot 2011-06-11 at 10.26.20 AM.pngEarlier 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,[5],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,[5],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:

tinygreens-full;max$230,230.ImageHandler.jpgBut 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.

farm.jpgAdditionally, 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.

  • Doc Mudd

    Aw, just a little pantsload of wishful organic ‘magical’ thinking to celebrate National Sprouts Month – there are sales to be drummed up, after all!
    Maybe no one will report getting sick this time, and than it will be OK, right?

  • If this is magic, it is Black Magic of the worst kind. It is not really magic though…its make-believe. And the motive is as always… money. I wonder if Mr. Bagby believes his own statements about the health benefits vs. risk of sprouts. Does he feel eating raw sprouts is worth the risk of losing one’s kidneys? This is the same ploy we hear from the raw milk industry. If Mr. Bagby was doing all he could to make a safe product, I might have some sympathy for him, but he operated an unsafe and unsanitary operation according to FDA. There is no excuse for the use of unsafe compost with such a sensitive product. No responsible grower of any produce item I have ever met would do such a thing.
    Mr. Bagby continues to mislead the public, he gives no evidence that his products are safer today than they were yesterday; having an “audit” once a year is not a food safety program. The changes he should have made were likely obvious and likely were put off, that is until he sickened consumers.
    FDA’s public stand on sprouts is saddening. These officials know full well that this commodity is too risky to consume, they do not eat them themselves, yet, they avoid confronting the issues. After the terrible tragedy in Europe, it is now time for a shot across the bow to the entire sprout industry. We need FDA to say “get rid of the unsafe operations in your industry, make your product safely, or we will put you out of business”, and not, “it’s an individual decision “. When unsafe cars or tires kill people, we don’t hear Washington folks saying “buying these unsafe cars and tires is an individual decision”. Its not a matter of “tastes good”, or “good for you”, these products are too difficult to make safely, even under the best of conditions, and they pose a continuing public health threat.
    No respectable, conscientious retailer should ever offer sprouts for sale. A firm like Jimmy Johns seems to me, totally reckless. Even after several illnesses from their sandwiches, they continue to offer sprouts. So I must conclude it’s a popular item and thus the firm is willing to take the risk.
    The Chicago Tribune tried to portray Mr. Bagby and company in a balanced way, but I do not think he deserves a favorable spotlight for his views.
    His operation constituted a public health hazard for at least 4 months when he caused the last outbreak and so my feeling is he cannot be relied on in the future. Does he expect his auditor to stop him the next time he takes a short cut with food safety? The next time it could be devastating, knowing what we know now about the ability of the most severe strains of E. coli to contaminate these products.
    I suspect FDA is banking that the industry will “kill itself off”, which I believe will eventually happen, but how many consumers will have to die before our public health folks will tell the American public the plain truth, “raw sprouts are just too dangerous to eat”.

  • Mary

    Wow. Sprouts must induce giant cojones too. I think they might be magical.

  • minkpuppy

    I’m starting to think a lot of these folks with the “magical foods” are eating too many of those magical mushrooms that like to grow in cow poop…

  • Sleuther

    Tiny Green Sprouts Farm not withstanding, even Bill might find it hard to get a conviction on this one.
    Other than just implicating the usual subjects the Fact remains that the only microbial evidence even remotely implicating sprouts came from an open, discarded container of sprouts found many days later in a dumpster.
    Excerpt from
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2001936/E-coli-outbreak-German-be=
    an-sprouts-Spanish-cucmbers-source.html :
    “He said even though no tests of the sprouts from a farm in Lower Saxony had come back positive, the epidemiological investigation of the pattern of the outbreak had produced enough evidence to draw the conclusion.”
    Translation: “We gotta blame somebody”. (Certainly not the clandestine genetically engineered bioweaons industry…)
    Here’s the Reuters story:
    German officials see no E.coli fault at organic farm
    Sat Jun 11, 2011 2:56pm GMT
    By Brian Rohan
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Officials investigating an organic farm in northern Germany said on Saturday they do not expect to take legal action against it for causing an E.coli outbreak that has killed at least 31 people.
    Authorities link the epidemic, the deadliest in modern history, to contaminated bean sprouts and shoots grown at the farm that made their way to restaurants and kitchens across the country.
    “Everything we have looked into until now shows the farm was flawless,” said Gert Hahne, spokesman for the consumer protection office of Lower Saxony state. “It is hygienic and followed all the regulations.
    “No matter how you look at it we don’t see any fault with the farm or legal ground to hold them accountable,” he said by telephone. “You cannot punish someone for having bad luck.”
    However the farm has been shut down. Authorities say results of tests taken there have yet to place E.coli on site, but that some 500 samples are still being examined — including some from the farm’s seeds, which came from Europe and Asia.
    The German government had come under fire at home and around Europe for failing to pin down the cause of the month-long outbreak, which only on Friday was officially identified as having come from the bean sprouts.
    Scientists said then that traces of the deadly strain were detected in a packet of bean sprouts from the farm found in a family’s rubbish bin after two of the family members fell ill from eating them. The results were confirmed on Saturday.
    About a quarter of the near 3,000 people sick from E.coli have developed a severe complication from the bacteria called haemolytic uraemic syndrome, or HUS, which affects the blood, kidneys and nervous system.
    Authorities warn that the particularly virulent outbreak is still a threat, and the death toll may rise despite signs of a slowdown in new infections.
    Late on Friday, Health Minister Daniel Bahr responded to mounting criticism over the handling of the outbreak, telling broadcaster ZDF that information should have been shared sooner.
    Several scientists say the investigation should have focussed on bean sprouts earlier.
    (Editing by Mark Heinrich)
    [reuters]
    Note in the grower’s website account below they have been in business for 25 years and are certified — like many conventional (ie non-organic) farming operations, by GlobalGaps…
    Below is Google translation from German sprout grower website accused of ecoli tragedy, 22 dead over 2,000 sick: http://www.gaertnerhof.org/
    9 June 2011
    Additional information of current events: We do not sell any goods
    On Sunday, 5 June 2011, 17:00 clock, we were informed by the health authority that there is a suspicion our sprouts could be contaminated with EHEC bacteria. Then we immediately as a precaution our trade with our entire product range stopped, although only an oral closure was in favor of the shoots. This includes fruits, vegetables, potatoes, etc. Since Sunday are not a product has left our premises.
    8 June 2011
    We, the Gärtnerhof Bienenbüttel are shocked and concerned by the news of 05.06. That part of our goods by EHEC pathogens will be contaminated. Following the announcement by the authorities, we immediately inform all customers and recalled the product.
    News of the investigations focus on the staff in May with diarrhea, including a severe EHEC O104 on pathogens. (Installed since 1998 in our company) Through our regular training in the HACCP concept to health conditions on the farm all employees on possible causes and how to avoid infection are sensitized. In addition, our company has GLOBALGAP certification since 2004, in which also the adequacy and implementation of hygiene standards by an external body is inspected annually. The obvious preventive measures in the sanitary field include in our operation for years after the regular washing of hands, the hand sanitizer and disposable hand towels. The employees wear appropriate protective clothing. The statement by Dr. Jörg Pfeiffer (Veterinäroberrat of veterinary and food control office, Uelzen) of June 2011: “The operation is monitored regularly and performed hygienically correct.” May have occurred as despite these precautionary measures, contamination is, to us at this time not be explained. Regardless, we hope that the source of EHEC pathogens is quickly found, so there is clarity for all participants and other diseases can be avoided. We cooperate very closely with all relevant state agencies and institutions.
    We run the shoot production for 25 years and have always been perfect goods delivered. In January 2011, we had sampled routinely on E. coli, the results were negative. As of 24 May we tested on the basis of affected shoots and shoot different mixture on EHEC, the laboratory results were also all negative. After 05.06. were grown an additional several hundred samples, whose initial results were all negative, further analysis results are currently pending.
    Our farm with all his staff is very concerned about the illnesses and deaths from the EHEC infections. Our sympathy goes to all concerned and we hope that is expected to further success of the doctors, so that the sick get better soon.
    More information on EHEC: Opinion of BÖLW (federal organic food industry) from 06.09.2011.
    Organic food: credibility, environmentally friendly, value
    Many consumers who eat healthy are aware of, uncertainty in the EHEC crisis. For weeks the authorities warn against the consumption of fresh vegetables and salads. It is still not able to determine the origin of the virus. Sales of Fresh vegetables and salad is clearly broken.
    As before, there are good reasons for organic food to enjoy. Anyone who eats organic does something for his well-being, the environment, climate, biodiversity and the Welfare of animals. The current situation The cause of the current wave of EHEC disease is now known. But still before the experts are looking for the source of infection. So far, none of the Widespread public suspicion confirmed. Currently, the investigations focus on a company that produces organic sprouts. But so far, all analysis
    the samples taken there without finding. On the first possible suspect was not the Spanish cucumber responsible for the disease wave excitation found be. In the context of food, the specific organism only in a ton of kitchen waste for a sick family are demonstrated. The Fund can so far no further conclusions. Thousands of samples of fresh vegetables and
    Salad, which were given by growers and the authorities for analysis in order, remained without findings.
    Cause of disease unclear still unclear at present is where the true origin of EHEC infections is and what paths they have spread, so clear and can be safely concluded that the Organic agriculture is no particular risk of contamination of food is going out with EHECErregern. In a European research project, leading microbiologists and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, the EHEC infections worldwide since evaluated first discovery of the virus and found that for a cultivation system a particular risk must be demonstrated. The decisive factors are hygiene measures that must be equally respected by both organic and conventional farms and are monitored by the authorities. In addition, the researchers found that the secretions of cattle much less contain EHEC and other acid-tolerant coliform bacteria if the animals humanely, are mainly hay and grass, lined – as in organic farming customary. Too much concentrate on the other hand lowers the pH in the digestive tract of cattle, so that the environment for EHEC bacteria is effective. Prof. Kaufmann of the Max-Planck Institute for Infection Biology points out that wherever a lot of animals in a very small area are required to develop disease and can spread rapidly. “The Industrial agriculture is almost an incubator for new pathogens, “says Prof. Kaufmann. Other scientists are worried about the extent of uninhibited Einsatvon antibiotics in industrial farming is an indication of the origin of multi-resistant organism. By contrast, currently assumed by the Federal Office for Risk Assessment (BfR), that the seed may have come from people and does not come from animal feces.
    Credibility through transparency and recycling Organic farming is sure to produce high quality, safe and tasty food and help preserve the environment and resources. Organic farming is based on a circular economy. The animal manure is used to build soil fertility, by delivering nutrients and humus increased. Growing up in such a cultivated soil healthy, robust and aromatic plants. In addition, humus-rich soils store a lot water and CO2. Numerous studies show the great importance which the organic fertilizer to maintain the productivity of the soil and the quality of the plants. Without an organic fertilizer and a purely synthetic fertilizer-based agriculture would not be the preservation of the natural soil fertility on the planet possible.
    The organic farming offers transparency from farm to plate. Thus, for example the away the first suspected bio-cucumber from the Hamburg Wholesale Market to the field in Spain be traced quickly and positively. The organic farming and manufacturers and distributors of organic products to work systematically because the future generations with healthy and environmentally friendly product supply food to. Therefore, demonstrably high-risk practices, such as sse of pesticides and antibiotics, and agricultural genetic engineering is prohibited. The preference for products from the region and for the long-term partners reduces the risk of unknown messages and also increases security. Natural and man-made risks are, unfortunately, never be ruled out completely.
    The Organic farmers and businesses face this challenge every day and work with responsibility and experience working to minimize these risks. Hygiene is the best protection for consumers, careful hygiene in the kitchen offers the best protection against infection from bacteria on foods. This includes, in addition to hand washing, the thorough washing, especially of vegetables and fruit, to be eaten raw. Important separate work areas and equipment for vegetables and fruit on one side and slightly perishable foods such as meat and dairy products on the other (see also Recommendations of the Association of Independent health advice: http://www.ugb.de/e_n_6_148337_n_n_n_n_n_n_n.html).
    Our sympathy goes to the people affected the concern and compassion of the German organic sector are affected by the disease outbreak people. Speculation, hasty judgments and polemical debates do not help, it is important with all the concentration of the starting point of the pathogen out.

  • Doc Mudd

    Hmmm, ‘Sleuther’…voluminous delirious gaseous blast must be another symptom of fecal-contaminated toxic organic produce. Whew!
    Of interest from the midst of the above gas cloud:
    “You cannot punish someone for having bad luck.”
    Over 30 dead, nearly 3000 seriously ill (so far, this time) due to a little “bad luck” for an organic producer? What an indefensible apologetic gaseous stench!
    Notice how it is all about the poor, luckless organic farmer, nothing about the sick and dead consumers (who experienced a little bad luck themselves, I guess). This is the level of concern organic zealots have for the health and safety of your family. They are only interested in getting their grubby paws on your grocery money, nothing else.

  • what about the news that it is best? and now these things evaluated i dont understand ?????????