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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Outbreak of Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- Infection Spreads – Should interstate sales of sprouts be banned?

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:

  • Dog Doctor

    FDA has Guidance for Industry: Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards For Sprouted Seeds
    http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/ProduceandPlanProducts/ucm120244.htm
    which includes
    Seed Treatment: and Testing for Pathogens: .
    The guidance was written after a number of sprout outbreaks in the early 2000’s. Unfortunately, not all sprouters follow the guideance

  • Doc Mudd

    “…perhaps banning sales of sprouts across state lines would both limit the size of these outbreaks and jump-start small, local, sustainable agriculture?”
    Interesting concept. It certainly would multiply potential point sources of salmonella. Given the inherently risky nature of sprouts, that should increase the odds of somebody slipping up and contaminating some amount of product – more pick-up games of russian roulette being played simultaneously.
    Likely the number of consumers poisoned from any single source would be relatively few and, since these ‘small producers’ will be exempt from tracking on FDA’s food safety ‘radar’, who will ever know if there was an outbreak (except maybe the local grocer who can’t seem to keep toilet paper on the shelves)? Actually, that probably makes it alright…if it’s just ‘local’ and only a ‘few’ unimportant sick folks at a time. Seems like those local sick folks might be friends and neighbors in a case such as this, but who cares as long as they paid cash for the damned sprouts, right?

  • Mike Jones

    “…perhaps banning sales of sprouts across state lines would both limit the size of these outbreaks and jump-start small, local, sustainable agriculture?”
    That paticular statment would in fact limit the number of outbreaks due to the total amount of product being produced and logistics. Your statement that this would increase the number of outbreaks is based off what scientific informationDoc dog Nutts??

  • Doc Mudd

    Same amount of product demanded by the market, more clueless little sprouts producers dawbing around in nutrient media vulnerable to contamination, Mikey.
    More amateur duffers, more outbreaks — albeit nice small, local outbreaks — and those are just fine, right?

  • Carrie

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe that preventing sale across state lines would be effective in preventing sprout-related illness. In virtually every instance of Salmonella contamination in sprouts recently, the source of the contamination has been the seed. There is guidance on minimizing the likelihood of this contamination surviving through the sprouting stage, as Dog Doctor points out, but it does not reduce risk to zero. It is quite amazing at how hearty the Salmonella can be in these seeds — often surviving large doses of chlorine or other chemicals used as antimicrobials against seed contamination.

    Many sprouters are sourcing their seed from a few large distributors. So even if there are more sprouters who only sell their product within-state, they would presumably still get the seed from one of these distributors.

    These outbreaks are likely to continue until we discover a way to consistently produce Salmonella-free seed.

  • Greenie

    I buy and grow wheat grass bought at my natural foods store, and more recently started seeds for microgreens produced at home. They are wonderful foods for use in salads, stir fries, and juicing. As a consumer, I have no idea where these products are sourced or whether the suppliers followed GAPs per Dog Doctor’s link. How do commercial producers investigate their sources, and how can consumers better “know their farmer” to make sure their own nutrient dense greens are coming from a safe source?

  • Christopher D.

    The true problem with sprouts as already stated lies in the seed itself. MORE government involvement and increased testing will do little to prevent these types of illness from occurring. If you look at the data..both large and small producers alike have been responsible for these outbreaks and well as companies that have followed the FDA guidance guidelines.”…perhaps banning sales of sprouts across state lines would both limit the size of these outbreaks and jump-start small, local, sustainable agriculture?”
    As for this statement it is yet to be proven and might be good for sustainable agriculture but do little to prevent outbreaks form happening due to the fact that their are only a handful of seed producers which companies buy from. Bottom line SPROUTS ARE DANGEROUS to consume and need to come with a disclaimer for the “at risk” population.

  • Marymary

    No offense Greenie, but knowing your farmer is not an effective way to prevent or reduce the risk of foodborne illness.