smoking sprouts.jpgOrganic bean sprouts from the Gaertnerhof Bienenbuettel farm near Uelzen, Germany, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Hamburg (seems pretty local) have been link to the 39 Dead, 826 with HUS and 3,406 Ill in what has become the second largest, but mostly deadly, E. coli outbreak in history.

If you think that the same outbreak could not happen here, you have not paid attention to history (or my blog). Recall this:

• 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 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of one environmental (water run-off) sample identified Salmonella serotype I 4,[5],12:i:- that was indistinguishable from the outbreak strain.

Although there is no mention of the above outbreak on Tiny Green’s website, here is how the operation is described:

Tiny Greens is a unique organic farm located in the flatlands of central Illinois. Bill Bagby started growing sprouts using hydroponics in 1986. After 7 years he decided to become a certified organic grower, building a new, eco-friendly building to grow sprouts, as well as baby micro-greens. Tiny Greens now grows more than 16 varieties of sprouts and baby micro-greens. Our most popular items are still mung beans and alfalfa sprouts. Some others are red clover sprouts, sunflower greens and ocean water-grown wheatgrass. …

I’ll let you read the FDA Inspection Report on Tiny Greens.

True, there is a very large difference between 140 sick with Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- and 3,406 with E. coli O104:H4. But, the type of bug and the number ill is where the dissimilarities end.

The Tiny Green’s sprout outbreak went on for months until state and federal authorities caught wind of it. The same seems to have happened in Germany. How bacteria – Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- or E. coli O104:H4 – get into seeds, workers, water supply or sprouts would not differ – bugs do not care how they hitch a ride to sicken us.  It also appears that both outbreaks have centered on sprouts served at restaurants and hotels (most locally), and those sickened were primarily adults.

So, do not take much comfort that E. coli O104:H4 has not yet found its way to the United States.  Other bugs – just a deadly – are already here.