The CDC has confirmed that there are presently 94 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella serotype I 4,,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.
However, 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.
While 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.